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CFO Jeff Atwater announces he will not run for U.S. Senate

Republican Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced on Facebook on Saturday that he will not jump into the U.S. Senate race.

"Only slightly a year into this role I continue to feel blessed to be serving as your financial watchdog of government spending and I see so many more ways that I can serve you in this present capacity. As much as (my wife) Carole and I are humbled by your calls, notes and messages to enter the U.S. Senate race and carry our banner into the fight we believe we have a responsibility to finish the job Floridians elected us to do," wrote Atwater, 54. "I promise you this, I will be with you and I will work at your side between now and November to see that Florida elects a United States senator committed to our founding principles of freedom and liberty which has produced a prosperity never before achieved on this planet and which has inspired people across the globe."

To us at the Buzz, running for Senate seemed like a no-lose, no-brainer for Atwater where, at worst, he would ramp up his statewide profile without risking his CFO seat. That two Republicans who participated in our latest Florida Insider Poll likened the Connie Mack campaign to Katherine Harris' in 2006 points to the skepticism about Mack's strength.

As it stands, Atwater is on a collision course with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the 2018 gubernatorial race.

More than 100 savvy politicos who participated in the Tampa Bay Times' latest Florida Insider Poll saw it as a close call. A bare majority, 51 percent, said if they were advising Atwater, they would encourage him to run. Republicans frequently pointed to incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson's vulnerability, Mack's unimpressive campaign to date, and lack of enthusiasm for the current field among grass roots conservatives.

Likewise, the Insiders were evenly split on whether Atwater would win the primary, with 48 saying he would likely win, 47 saying Mack would and eight predicating George LeMieux would still come out on top. No one expected retired Army Col. Mike McCalister to win.

Still, nearly two-thirds of our Insiders said Atwater would be the strongest general election candidate against Nelson, while roughly 22 percent named Mack and 13 percent named LeMieux.

You can find the list of 62 Republicans, 34 Democrats and nine independents who voted in this Insider poll at blogs.tampa bay.com/buzz.

Insert joke here

We are not making this up: Herman Cain, whose presidential campaign fizzled amid allegations of infidelity and sexual harassment, on Thursday will headline a "We Win with Women" fundraising event in Tampa organized by Republican Women Federated. Tickets are $45, and it will be at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. Call (813) 839-6629 for more information.

Vice President Jeb

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush raised a lot of eyebrows Friday when he sounded receptive to a vice presidential nod.

"Well I'd consider it," Bush said in a NewsMax interview, "but I doubt I'll get a call, and I don't know if it's the right thing for me to do."

Later, he offered this clarification to Bloomberg: "I am not going to be the veep nominee. … Lay that to rest. I guess I wasn't clear enough."

Crist admires Obama

Former Gov. Charlie Crist on MSNBC on Friday lamented that moderation is "practically nonexistent" in the Republican Party. "If you don't toe the line and talk in tea party terminology — you know, we just saw a presidential primary process that was sort of a competition for who could be the most conservative."

Crist, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, spoke glowingly of President Barack Obama as a "centrist … continually trying to reach out to the Republicans for help." Was that an endorsement? "No, it's not. It's not. It's some admiration, obviously," Crist replied.

Gualtieri vs. Rice

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, facing a tough election challenge from former Sheriff Everett Rice, appears on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today, where he downplays recent controversies regarding his narcotics units. Once the investigations into perjury, trespassing and other allegations are complete, he predicted, it will show the problems stemmed from three or four individuals.

Gualtieri, 50, cast the race as the choice between a modern law enforcement leader who understands the latest methods and how to work in tight budget times, and a creature of the past.

"He's been out of it too long. He doesn't know what he doesn't know," Gualtieri said of Rice, 67. "Technology's changed, policing's changed, the way you do it's changed dramatically."

Poll position

Last week saw the release of two new polls — Fox News and Public Policy Polling — showing Obama narrowly leading Mitt Romney for Florida's crucial 29 electoral votes. That helps explain why Vice President Joe Biden will visit Everglades National Park on Monday, and on Friday first lady Michelle Obama will be in Naples talking to students and Jill Biden will address Broward College. All are "official" visits funded by taxpayers.

The average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics shows Obama leading in the Sunshine State by 4.2 percentage points.

But there are worrisome signs for the president in that April 14-17 Fox News Poll, which showed Obama ahead by 2 points, within the margin of error. Only 43 percent of the registered voters surveyed approved of the president's performance, while 48 percent disapproved. And Fox found Romney leading among independents by a whopping 17 points, which is reason to be skeptical about the results. No one wins a statewide election and loses independent voters by that much.

The April 12-15 poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found Obama leading overall by 5 percentage points and among independents by 19.

It also found that while Sen. Marco Rubio may be a star on the national political scene, only 43 percent of Florida voters surveyed approved of Rubio's job performance and 41 percent disapproved. Sounds pretty weak, unless you compare it with Sen. Nelson: Only 36 percent approved of his performance and 32 percent disapproved.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Winners of the week

State Sen. JD Alexander. Showing what brute, parochial power politics is all about, the state senator rolled over critics to create a 12th university in a tough budget year. Gov. Rick Scott, no longer a force against business as usual in Tallahassee, signed the bill late Friday.

U.S. Rep. David Rivera. The Miami Republican may still carry the stench of political sleaze, but state prosecutors concluded ambiguities in Florida law prevent them from prosecuting him for allegedly raising tens of thousands of dollars without disclosing spending it on seemingly personal expenses such as dry cleaning and a girlfriend's travel expenses.

CFO Jeff Atwater announces he will not run for U.S. Senate 04/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 21, 2012 10:14pm]

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