Former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, who represented the Space Coast from 1994 to 2008, announced Friday that he will join a crowded field of Republicans seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
"We are at a time in our nation's history where we the people have to make tough choices that will determine our national direction for the next 4 years ... choices that determine America's direction for decades," Weldon said in a written statement.
His entrance in the race comes as Rep. Connie Mack is solidifying his spot as the GOP frontrunner, having received the endorsement this week of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Mack has about $1 million in the bank. So does former Sen. George LeMieux. A third candidate, businessman Mike McCalister, trails in money and name recognition.
Weldon decided to enter the race because none of the candidates is connecting with conservatives, his campaign said.
"He's on the ground in Florida every day," spokesman Hogan Gidley said. "There is no authentic conservative in the race. We've got two moderates fighting it out."
The other Republican candidates are all campaigning to be the most conservative.
Though Weldon is little-known outside his Space Coast district, he could be traveling the state as soon as today, said Gidley, who served as spokesman for former presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
"We're used to being the underdog, underfunded and discounted," he said.
Gidley said Weldon's record in Congress shows he's a solid Republican, a supporter of balanced budgets and an effective lawmaker who knows how to get Washington working.
Because he was in Congress for so long, opponents are already whispering about how many hometown spending projects called earmarks he was responsible for. Asked about that, Gidley said, "that's a battle for another time."
But that time is drawing near. The Aug. 14 GOP primary just over three months away.