Could former Republican state Rep. Adam Hasner be Florida’s next Marco Rubio?
Like Rubio in his successful 2010 Senate campaign, Hasner has less experience and name recognition than other Republicans in the field hoping to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) next November.
And, like Rubio, he’s working to position himself as the preferred candidate of conservative activists and the national pundit class — particularly on Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R) budget, which Hasner has fully embraced, a rare Senate candidate willing to take such a step.
Still, hurdles remain. Neither state Senate President Mike Haridopolos nor former Sen. George LeMieux are the radioactive presence in a Republican primary that former governor Charlie Crist, Rubio’s 2010 primary opponent, was. And, Hasner remains almost entirely unproven on the big stage — particularly in regards fundraising.
For the moment, Hasner is placing a major bet that his support for the Ryan plan will pay political dividends — casting him in the eyes of GOP voters as the only true conservative in the contest.
Rick Wilson, an adviser to Hasner, says voters will reward him for taking a principled stand: “Adam is a junkyard dog on policies and willing to take some very tough stands and willing to go out there and swim against the current, because he’s not a guy who puts political calculus first.” If voters wanted someone swayed by popular opinion, he said, “we would have Sen. Charlie Crist right now,” added Wilson.
Haridopolos, for one, has taken a very different approach on the issue.
Asked on a conservative radio show last Tuesday whether he would support the Ryan budget, he refused over and over to answer. Eventually, the program’s host hung up on him.
A spokesman for Haridopolos said the senate president was thrown because he was booked to talk about the state budget, not the Senate race. “That was why he refused to answer the question,” said Ted Baker. “He tightened up and I think he sounded miffed on the phone, which he was, because he felt ambushed....Obviously going forward he’s going to expect questions on every topic.”
Haridopolos’ camp added that very few Senate candidates across the country have wholeheartedly endorsed Ryan’s plan, and they say that constituents — especially seniors — responded enthusiastically to his position.
While many Florida political observers are already turning the race into a Hasner versus Haridopolos story line, seasoned Republican observers caution that the field is far from set.
LeMieux, who was appointed to the Senate by Crist, has largely stayed out of the back and forth to date but will likely have a role to play in the primary when he decides to fully engage. Craig Miller, the former CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse who ran unsuccessfuly for Congress in 2010, is also considering a Senate bid.
And then there is the biggest unknown about Hasner: his ability to raise money.
With his position in the legislature, Haridopolos has amassed a serious war chest and LeMieux as a former U.S. senator is likely to do well in the cash chase as well. Hasner is the least proven, by far, on that front.
There are signs of progress, however. Former Bush administration officials Ari Fleischer and Dan Senor are hosting a fundraiser for him with Jewish Republicans in Washington this week. And, former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler and Jacksonville businessman Jay Demetree joined his campaign. Demetree will be Hasner’s finance committee chairman; he played a similar role on Rubio’s team.
Rubio’s fundraising numbers were lackluster until the last quarter of 2009; then they started to snowball. He wound up raising nearly $20 million for the race.
Do Hasner and Rubio have some similarities? Sure. But, every ambitious Republican politician in Florida — and elsewhere — will be comparing themselves to Rubio for some time to come.
The proof will be on the campaign trail. Hasner has an opportunity — handed him by Haridopolos’ stumbles and LeMieux’s ties to Crist. But he has yet to demonstrate whether he can take advantage of it ala Rubio in 2010.