You are hereDaytona Beach News-Journal: U.S. Senate candidates address Tea Party Florida Convention

Daytona Beach News-Journal: U.S. Senate candidates address Tea Party Florida Convention


-By Derek Catron

November 6, 2011- DAYTONA BEACH -- Five Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate stood for review before tea party members Saturday at the Ocean Center, but the candidates may have been distinguished as much for who wasn't there as who was.

Deon Long, Mike McCalister, Ron McNeil, Craig Miller and Marielena Stuart -- the featured speakers on the second day of the Tea Party Florida Convention --

were the candidates tea party members already like. In a 75-minute question-and-answer session, they never disagreed.

"We've got a pretty conservative group up here," McCalister noted at one point when, yet again, the answers sounded like echoes.

"It's unfortunate that the career politicians on the ballot didn't join us here today," Miller said in his concluding remarks, referring to former state Rep. Adam Hasner, Congressman Connie Mack IV and George LeMieux, who was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist to serve the final 16 months of Sen. Mel Martinez's term.

A Quinnipiac University poll in September showed LeMieux leading the field in the race to try to unseat Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. But LeMieux had only 17 percent of the support, with more than half of Republicans saying they were undecided.

McCalister, a retired Army colonel, was second in that poll with 11 percent, followed by Hasner and Miller, the former CEO of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, with 5 percent each.

If tea party members have their say, though, Nelson's challenger will be one of the candidates who faced them in a session that seemed especially geared to establishing conservative credentials.

Among the questions, one compared Democrats in Washington to socialists -- the candidates were against them -- and another referenced children being taught homosexual acts as part of their school curriculum. The candidates were against that, too.

The closest any candidate came to disagreeing with the others came when Long -- an Orlando attorney whose platform is based primarily on his support for the FairTax -- was asked about the encroachment of Sharia law on the judicial system.

Rather than reflexively condemning the possibility, Long said he believed Washington had bigger problems. "I don't think that's anything that's going to be done by the government," he said.

With no substantive differences in their answers, the session became an opportunity for candidates to see who could articulate their position the most colorfully.

That approach well-suited McNeil, a businessman and manufacturer from Tallahassee who wrote a book on his views entitled, "Have We Lost Our Minds?"

In speaking on career politicians, he said he favored two terms: "One in office, one in prison."

But the others scored points with the crowd, too.

McCalister on immigration: "We need to take care of our own folks first. We bought and paid for this place with our dearest blood. Just because you show up here doesn't mean you get to stay. And, please, learn to speak English."

Miller on what his advice he would give to those in the Occupy Wall Street movement: "Get off your ass and go get a job."

The lunchtime crowd of about 400 ate up that kind of rhetoric.

"I want somebody to go to the Senate who has a fire in his belly," said Corey Spangler of Lady Lake. "No more compromising."

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