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Florida Republican Sen. George LeMieux mulling a 2012 bid against Sen. Bill Nelson

Updated: 5:40 p.m.

It will be hard for future elections to compete with 2010, which was a banner year in Florida politics -- even by Florida's lofty standards.

But, 2012 may come close.

Outgoing Florida Republican Sen. George LeMieux (R), the onetime chief of staff to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) who was tapped by the governor to hold the Senate seat that Crist himself was pursuing, is actively weighing a 2012 run for the seat held by Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

"We're going to talk and think about it and see what the future holds," LeMieux said on Tuesday in Tallahassee, according to the Associated Press. "If it is something I'm going to do in the short term, then I have to make a decision relatively near term." (Is there a difference between "short term" and "near term"?)

A source familiar with LeMieux's thinking confirmed that the senator is "certainly" considering a bid and will likely make a decision by the middle of 2011. Family considerations will play a role in that decision; LeMieux and his wife, Meike, have four children aged seven months to seven years old. The source added that after leaving office in January, LeMieux, who is also currently serving on the transition team of incoming Republican Gov. Rick Scott, will return to South Florida and possibly resume his law practice.

"He sees that the country is really headed down wrong path but is encouraged by the shakeup in this last election," the source said.

(One indication that LeMieux is seriously considering a bid: he's slated to make his first appearance next week at the Monday Meeting, a regular gathering of prominent conservatives in New York City.)

There was some speculation even when LeMieux was first sworn in last September that he might pursue a bid against Nelson, a moderate Democrat running for his third term. LeMieux tamped down on the notion of a 2012 run at the time.

Should LeMieux decide to run, he'd likely give Nelson a tougher race than the incumbent had in 2006, when Nelson won in a landslide against then-Rep. Katherine Harris (R), the former state secretary of state whose candidacy was riddled with problems.

First, of course, LeMieux would have to survive the Republican primary -- and already several potential contenders are taking a look at the race.

We surveyed several state GOP insiders to get a look at the potential field, and the challengers' relative strengths and weaknesses.

Here's the results:

LeMieux: If he decides to run, LeMieux, 41, would be the de facto incumbent on the Republican side although that might not be such a good thing if the political environment is anything like it was in 2010.

Having served in Washington already, LeMieux could argue that he's best suited to hit the ground running in 2012; he'd also likely have better statewide name identification than other contenders and would already have a team in place.

The biggest hurdle to LeMieux in the Republican primary, however, would likely be his long relationship with Crist -- not exactly a beloved figure among state Republicans.

Even though LeMieux sided with former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) over Crist once the governor left the GOP (and has barely talked with Crist since) he could face criticism for serving for years as the governor's "alter ego."

LeMieux detractors might try to make the case that he counseled Crist to take positions that were unpopular among conservatives -- including the governor's stance on cap-and-trade -- while LeMieux supporters could argue that the "wheels started to come off" for Crist once LeMieux left his administration, and that it was LeMieux who tried to convince Crist not to leave the party.

Incoming state Senate President Mike Haridopolos: Haridopolos, who is also a lecturer at the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service, is considered one of the state Republican Party's rising stars and one of the other major potential 2012 contenders. In an interview with The Fix on Thursday, Haridopolos said that supporters have been asking him to run for the seat "for a few months now" and that the idea of running against Nelson is "intriguing."

"We're looking at it; there's no doubt," Haridopolos said. He declined to give a timeline for making a decision, noting that "it's still too early to discern that." But he indicated that he's talked it over with his wife and that she's given him the green light.

"My wife basically said, 'Mike if you want to do this, I'm with you,'" Haridopolos said. He added that he'll make a decision to run independently of whether LeMieux or other candidates decide to run -- with the exception of former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who remains enormously popular among state Republicans. "If Jeb Bush runs, I'm with Jeb," Haridopolos said.

If Haridopolos does run, he'd likely try to stake out the conservative ground to LeMieux's ideological right; in talking with The Fix, he frequently compared himself to Rubio, casting himself as the conservative leader on the state Senate side while Rubio served as the leader among state House conservatives.

"[Voters] want another Marco Rubio-conservative person, an unquestioned conservative in the ranks," Haridopolos said, adding that the state Senate's "always been this kind of squishy place, and now it's unquestionably conservative."

Haridopolos is known as a good fundraiser for the party and as the head of state Senate campaigns, but he'd have to operate on a different level if running for U.S. Senate.

Rep. Connie Mack: Mack, the 14th District congressman who coasted to a fourth term last Tuesday, has also been floated as a possible contender for the seat. He is the son of a former senator and would benefit from his political pedigree (and famous last name) but he could face some trouble among Republican primary voters for being seen as a moderate; he butted heads with members of his party earlier this year by coming out against an Arizona-style immigration law in Florida.

Rep. Vern Buchanan: Buchanan, who had an easy victory in the Sarasota-area 13th District last week, is also said to be mulling a bid. If he jumped into the race, he'd have a big leg up in terms of his ability to self-fund; he's the eighth-wealthiest member of Congress, with an estimated net worth of more than $53 million. (Scott's 2010 campaign showed that self-funding can go a long way in Florida, although wealthy real estate developer Jeff Greene's millions weren't enough to see him through the Democratic Senate primary.)

Freshman Rep.-elect Allen West: West, who bested Rep. Ron Klein (D) last Tuesday in one of the country's most hotly-contested races, hasn't made any indications (yet) that he'd pursue a bid, but some Florida Republicans say he's worth keeping an eye on. His status as a national conservative darling could help him fund a bid and raise his name ID if he decided to jump into the race. Working against him is the fact that he's not even been sworn into office yet and is already being dogged by controversy. He also hails from the Palm Beach area, which isn't exactly the strongest base for a Republican campaign.

Rep. Tom Rooney: The 16th District congressman's name has also been part of the mix; he's seen as a rising star in the state, although he might be viewed as too young by some. (He turns 40 later this month.)

State House Majority Leader Adam Hasner: There's been some buzz surrounding outgoing state House majority leader, who is term-limited. State Republican operatives believe he'd have the ability to build a strong organization quickly; they also note that his wife, Jillian, managed California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman's (R) campaign. In addition, Hasner's Jewish background could be a plus in winning over Florida's significant Jewish population.

However the GOP primary field shakes out, Democrats contend that Nelson is well-positioned heading into his re-election bid. They note that Nelson out-performed former Vice President Al Gore in the state in 2000 and has developed a strong record in the Senate as a moderate who has fought to protect Medicare, Social Security and Florida's space industry.

With state Republicans gearing up to unseat the lone remaining Democrat in statewide office -- and with the 2012 Republican National Convention, slated to take place in Tampa, upping the stakes -- expect the race to be a hot one.

By Felicia Sonmez  | November 12, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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