Sen. George LeMieux (R)
Elected: Appointed Sept. 2009, 1st term.
Born: May 21, 1969, Fort Lauderdale .
Education: Emory U., B.A. 1991; Georgetown U., J.D. 1994.
Family: Married (Meike); 3 children.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1994-2009; FL deputy atty. gen., 2003-05; Chief of staff, Crist for Governor, 2006; Chief of staff, Gov. Charlie Crist; Chmn., Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, 2008-09.
Republican George LeMieux became the new junior senator from Florida in September 2009 following the resignation of Republican Mel Martinez, who had announced in August that he would resign rather than finish out his first term. LeMieux (luh-MYOO) was appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who plans to run for the seat in 2010 and chose LeMieux, his chief of staff, as a placeholder.
|Mel Martinez (R)||3,672,864||(49%)||($12,836,836)|
|Betty Castor (D)||3,590,201||(48%)||($11,472,071)|
|Mel Martinez (R)||522,994||(45%)|
|Bill McCollum (R)||360,474||(31%)|
|Doug Gallagher (R)||158,360||(14%)|
|Johnnie Byrd (R)||68,982||(6%)|
A moderate, LeMieux calls himself a “Charlie Crist Republican.” He grew up in Coral Springs in Broward County and got involved in politics early in life. As an undergraduate student at Emory University, he interned for Republican Sen. Connie Mack and GOP Rep. E. Clay Shaw. LeMieux received his law degree from Georgetown University, and then returned to Florida to practice law in Fort Lauderdale, about 20 miles from his hometown. He got active in local politics, and was chairman of the Broward County Young Republicans. In 1998, he launched an uphill challenge to longtime Democratic state Rep. Tracy Stafford in Broward County, one of the state’s most liberal areas. LeMieux surpassed Stafford in fundraising, and knocked on thousands of doors in the district, asking, “When was the last time your state representative knocked on your door?” Positioning himself as a moderate on social issues, he endorsed health benefits and adoption rights for same-sex couples. He lost the election, but the defeat had a silver lining, the friendship he made with then-state Sen. Crist during the campaign.
When Crist was elected the state’s attorney general, he hired LeMieux as one of his deputies. LeMieux became one of Crist’s closest confidants, and when Crist launched his 2006 campaign for governor, he made him his chief of staff. LeMieux oversaw most of the day-to-day operations of the campaign and helped Crist roll to a 31-percentage-point primary win. During the general election, LeMieux encouraged Crist to stick to a moderate message, and urged him to decline an appearance by then-unpopular President George W. Bush at a rally the night before the election. Crist called LeMieux “the maestro” of his winning campaign and made him his chief of staff as governor.
LeMieux left the job in late 2007 to return to the private sector, becoming chairman of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, one of the largest law firms in Florida. He also began publishing the online “The LeMieux Report,” offering his analysis of Florida political and economic issues.
Crist’s pick of LeMieux, who has never held elective office, met with mixed reviews. The choice was panned by the other candidates for the Senate seat, but some Democrats, including the U.S. House representative from Broward County, Rep. Robert Wexler, called LeMieux a wise choice. Since his appointment, LeMieux has emphasized his moderate positions on issues, similar to Crist’s, telling a Fort Lauderdale crowd: “I’m pro-life, I’m pro-gun, and I’m pro-family.” At age 40, he is the youngest member in the Senate. He is expected to stay in the job for 16 months, until the new Senate is seated in January 2011. Although there have been murmurs LeMieux may run against the state’s senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, in 2012, LeMieux has said that that is not his intention.
LeMieux took the place of Martinez, a Republican, who was elected Florida’s junior senator in 2004. In December 2008, after just four years in the Senate, Martinez surprised many in his party by announcing that he would not seek re-election to a second term in 2010. “My decision is not based on re-election prospects, but on what I want to do with the next eight years of my life,” he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and said he wanted to spend more time with his family. The announcement came after several polls showed him with some of the lowest approval ratings among senators, a result of positions he has taken that angered both conservatives and moderates in the party and possibly also because of his close association with former President Bush. Then in August, Martinez announced he was stepping down immediately.
A wealthy personal-injury attorney, Martinez started a successful law practice after college, was elected chairman of the Orange County government in 1998, and co-chaired George W. Bush’s Florida campaign in 2000. After the election, he became Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. When Democratic Sen. Bob Graham announced plans to run for president in 2004, Martinez first won the GOP primary against Rep. Bill McCollum, and then won the general election in a contest with Democrat Betty Castor, a former state legislator from Tampa and former Florida education commissioner.
As the Senate’s only immigrant, Martinez took a lead role on immigration legislation. In 2006, he and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., worked out a compromise that established requirements for illegal immigrants to legalize their status depending on the length of time they had been in the United States. Martinez warned fellow Republicans that they would alienate Hispanic voters with anti-immigrant rhetoric, but conservatives harshly criticized Martinez’s proposals. Backers of a proposal to erect a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep immigrants out sent bricks to his office. The Senate passed the immigration bill in 2007, but the legislation died in the House. Later that year, Martinez and other senators tried unsuccessfully to pass a comprehensive bill that would include tougher enforcement of immigration laws, but also provisions for guest workers and a path to citizenship for illegal workers. Throughout the debate, Martinez came under fire from fierce opponents of the bill. Florida polls showed his approval rating hovering between 42% and 37%—not reassuring numbers for an incumbent.
In January 2007, Bush chose Martinez to chair the Republican National Committee. As chairman, he spoke frequently for Republican positions on Spanish-language media, but he drew repeated criticism on talk radio for his stand on immigration, which opponents derided as amnesty for illegal aliens. He also found it difficult to stay in touch with the voters in his large, multi-media-market state. In October 2007, he abruptly resigned the chairmanship. All the while, Martinez continued to raise money for his re-election campaign and in August 2008 published a book, A Sense of Belonging: From Castro’s Cuba to the U.S. Senate: One Man’s Pursuit of the American Dream. His poll numbers remained low, however. In February 2009, Crist entered the contest for Senate.