In his first South Florida visit since joining the Senate three months ago, Republican Sen. George LeMieux said he has made good on his promise to look out for the state's interests.
But he's also watching out for the man who put him in office: Gov. Charlie Crist, a candidate for the seat in 2010.
As Crist rival Marco Rubio has gained ground, LeMieux has quietly stepped up on behalf of his former boss. He co-headlined a Washington fundraiser for the governor last week and set up a political action committee, Protect America's Future, to funnel money to Crist and other political allies.
After Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe bucked the Republican establishment last month and endorsed Rubio, LeMieux sought to root out other potential defectors.
At a private Capitol Hill luncheon with other Republican senators, LeMieux urged them to talk to him before taking sides in the race.
"What I have told my colleagues was that if they're interested in getting involved in the Florida race, I hope that they will come to me," LeMieux said Tuesday after visiting the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
"I will give them the benefit of my opinion, and, obviously, they have the right and choice to do what they like. But I'd like to tell my side of the story."
The Senate primary had not yet heated up when Crist turned to his former chief of staff and campaign manager to finish the Senate term jettisoned by Mel Martinez, who resigned in September to spend more time with his family.
LeMieux was immediately derided as a political lackey who would merely keep the seat warm until the 2010 election.
LeMieux's decision to open a political action committee has heightened expectations that he will challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012.
While presenting himself as his own man, LeMieux has stayed close to Crist. They talk two or three times a week, LeMieux said Wednesday in an interview at a Coral Springs coffee shop.
He and the governor dined Monday night at an Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale after Crist addressed the Broward Republican Party, and they had lunch together Tuesday at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida.