Friday, May 18, 2012

Former Rep. Weldon makes late entrance to Florida's Republican Senate field

From: The Hill's Ballot Box

Former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) announced Friday he will run for Senate in Florida, adding to the already crowded but underwhelming field of Republicans vying to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Weldon, a physician who served in the House from 1995 until 2008, represented the "space coast" section of Florida that sits east of Orlando.

“Someone has to do something to provide a conservative answer to the problems the administration has created and the current Senate has endorsed," Weldon said in announcing his campaign. "Together, we can change Washington. I helped do it once, and I can help do it again.”

Weldon isn't the first candidate to read the tea leaves and see an opening for a "white knight" to enter the race.  What was expected to be a very tight reelection race for Nelson has looked less and less competitive, in part due to a field of candidates that continues to disappoint the state’s Republican establishment.

After no clear front-runner emerged from the field of five vying for the nomination for much of 2011, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) entered the race in October. Other candidates dropped out to make way for Mack, whose father was a former Florida senator and shared his name.

But Mack’s campaign has been plagued by a series of pitfalls, including financial problems, questions about his residency status and a batch of official congressional mailers that was erroneously sent to residents outside his district.

Polls show Nelson, whose approval ratings are well under 40 percent, continuing to hold a double-digit lead over both Mack and former Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.).

“The fact that there’s still so much turmoil in the Republican field six months from Election Day speaks volumes about their challenges in Florida," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Shripal Shah. "Unfortunately for the GOP, Congressman Weldon is just as much of a C-lister as Connie Mack and George LeMieux."

Weldon spokesman Hogan Gidley, best known in Washington as the communications director for Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, said Weldon isn't a career politician, but couldn't sit back and watch what was happening to the country without intervening.

"He thought the field lacked a true, authentic conservative," said Gidley. "He decided, 'I've been there before, I was able to get things accomplished then. We fixed a lot of problems then and we can fix them now.'"

Weldon will have some catching up to do ahead of the August primary. His name recognition likely pales in comparison to that of Mack, whose great-grandfather was a Hall of Fame baseball manager/owner also named Connie Mack. Mack had almost $1.4 million in his war chest as of the end of March, and LeMieux had $1.2 million.

Weldon kept his House campaign committee intact after leaving Congress, but terminated it in August 2011, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Nelson had an eye-popping $9.5 million stored away for his reelection as of March. The Hill rates this race as leaning Democratic.

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