- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2011

Former Florida Republican state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner has narrowly won a poll of state conservatives meeting in Orlando, giving his campaign fresh momentum in the tight contest for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

Mr. Hasner took 34 percent of the vote, with businessman Mike McCalister second with 30 percent of the vote and former Sen. George LeMieux third at 24 percent. Craig Miller, another businessman and restaurateur, finished fourth with 12 percent..

The poll, co-sponsored by The Washington Times, was conducted at the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando this week. Florida Republicans who heard the party’s top presidential candidates square off in a debate Thursday night will hold a presidential straw poll over the weekend.

A total of 1,501 CPAC delegates took part in the poll, which was conducted by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates on behalf of Florida CPAC and The Washington Times.

Mr. LeMieux is trying to get back the job he held briefly in 2010. He was appointed to the Senate by then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist to complete the term of retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. in 2009.

Mr. Hasner has benefited from endorsements from the tea party organizing group FreedomWorks and from influential RedState.com blogger Erik Erickson. Mr. McCalister is a businessman and former Army colonel who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination last year. Mr. Miller is also a military veteran and businessman who used to run the Ruth’s Chris steakhouse chain.

The crowded field reflects the fact that state Republicans see Mr. Nelson, a longtime figure in Florida politics now finishing up his second term in the Senate, as a prime candidate to be knocked off in the 2012 cycle. Democrats next year will have to defend 21 seats — plus two held by independents who caucus with the party — while just 10 Republican seats are on the ballot. A net gain of four seats would give Republicans control of the upper chamber.

A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week appears to confirm Mr. Nelson’s vulnerability. Just 44 percent of Floridians surveyed said the senator deserved a third term. Anything under 50 percent is considered a warning sign for an incumbent, especially one as well known in his state as is Mr. Nelson. Despite the doubts, the poll found that 45 percent of voters approved of Mr. Nelson’s job performance in Washington, compared to 32 percent who disapproved.

The Quinnipiac poll of 1,007 voters had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

While Florida had been a critical swing state in recent presidential elections, the midterms in 2010 have given the GOP momentum in the state. With the election of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and
Sen. Marco Rubio — whom many see as a possible vice presidential candidate next year — Mr. Nelson is the only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida.

And President Obama, who carried the state in his winning 2008 presidential campaign, may not be as big an asset for Mr. Nelson next year.

Another Quinnipiac poll this month found that Floridians disapprove of Mr. Obama’s job performance by a 57 percent to 39 percent margin, the biggest negative score for Mr. Obama in any state. Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would defeat Mr. Obama in a head-to-head race, according to the poll, while Texas Gov. and GOP frontrunner Rick Perry is in a statistical tie with the president.

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