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George LeMieux needs to denounce Charlie Crist, or quit

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George LeMieux has two big problems to overcome in his campaign to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. One is Connie Mack, and the other is Charlie Crist.

LeMieux has taken a lot of heat in this race because he was Crist’s strategist and helped guide him into the governor’s office. That is a legitimate concern for conservatives, but I don’t put a lot of stock in that criticism because, as a former political consultant, I know it’s incredibly rare for a consultant to agree with his client about everything. The relationship, no matter how close, is fraught with tension, especially for the consultant. The consultant has to live with, and publicly support, whatever his client says or does. That’s the job.

Since the consultant-client relationship is private, we’ll never know who was really responsible for what policy Crist promoted as governor. But once freed from a client obligation, a consultant-turned-politician has a legitimate right to define who he is and what he stands for, and not have to carry his former client’s baggage forever.

In this case, though, it’s more complicated. LeMieux is not a former senator because he won an election. He’s a former senator because Crist appointed him to the seat left open by the resignation of Mel Martinez, a move that shocked the political world at the time. Appointing your own political consultant to a job you want, as Crist did, was one of the most blatant examples of self-dealing the state of Florida has ever seen.

The LeMieux campaign’s constant criticism of Mack’s famous name is a mistake. None of us can control whom our parents are, and just as it is wrong to hold the sins of a father against the son, it is also wrong to hold the virtues of a father against the son.

If, as the LeMieux campaign says almost daily, Mack is leading LeMieux by enormous margins in all the polls because of his name ID, it is also true that LeMieux would have not been considered a serious candidate in the first place had he not been appointed to the Senate by Crist.

He cannot have it both ways. Whatever Mack’s perceived advantage, he should be judged as a leader in his own right, on his ideas, actions and policies. Given that political protocol dictates LeMieux be addressed in public as “Sen. Lemieux,” and given how he acquired that appellation, I hardly think he’s in a position to complain much about unfair advantages.

But LeMieux has another Crist-related problem he should have come to terms with long ago. Sources tell me Crist is plotting a comeback as we speak, probably as a Democrat, although I have no idea why the Democrats would want him.

On the campaign trail, LeMieux has a stock answer for the inevitable Crist question, and it goes something like this: “I disagreed with what Crist did. A person does not always agree with what their friends do. I’m a conservative Republican. I endorsed Marco Rubio the day after Crist left the Republican Party, but Crist and I remain friends.

That may be all well and good for former Crist supporters, but that answer is a problem for me, and for a lot of conservative primary voters like me.

In politics, just as in regular life, loyalty is a prized commodity. Ask anyone who considers me a friend, and he’ll tell you that I would give the shirt off my back, or march into hell firing a bazooka in a political fight on that friend’s behalf. I understand loyalty.

But loyalty to country trumps loyalty to even the closest political friends, and most conservative primary voters I know feel the same way I do about Crist. Crist abandoned his party and everything he ever said he believed in pursuit of his desperate, ego-driven bid for Senate. Crist was willing to sacrifice his country on the pagan altar of his own ambition.

LeMieux needs to step up and say unequivocally that he denounces Crist, that if Crist attempts a comeback of any kind, for any office, as a member of any party, he would refuse to help him. And I don’t mean just in public. I mean no behind-the-scenes help, no discreet fundraising calls, nothing.

LeMieux cannot reasonably expect conservative Republican primary voters to demand less because, just like we cannot forget Connie Mack’s name, we cannot forget that a vote for LeMieux may end up enabling a Crist comeback in the future, and that is unacceptable.

If LeMieux truly believes he is the best candidate for the job, then he shouldn’t have any problem putting his country before his friendship with Crist.

I don’t believe in coronations, and I love a good primary, but it’s time for LeMieux to either step up or step out. The ball is in his court.

Jack Furnari

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