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LeMieux Hopes to Keep Seat Warm for Crist

George LeMieux, the Florida Republican tapped to replace outgoing Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), will arrive in Washington, D.C., this week as an appointed Member in the minority party with just 15 months to serve.

Short on time, indeed — but the savvy former staffer will not be starved of clout.

Appointed Aug. 28 by Gov. Charlie Crist (R), LeMieux was chosen to serve out Martinez’s term by the very man — Crist — who is running for the seat next year. LeMieux has already met with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on his home turf in Florida, and ever the well-prepared staffer, he has already tapped a transition officer and a senior adviser to assist him as he braces for a hectic fall. “I want to be the Member that’s well prepared, who knows the issues, who asks the important questions, who’s thinking about how to help Floridians,— LeMieux said in an interview. “I want to be the hardest-working guy up there.—

LeMieux joins the Senate following a path set earlier this year by Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.). Both are former chiefs of staffs appointed to fill a vacant seat, and neither intends to run for a full term next year.

But while Kaufman came to the Senate well-versed on rules and procedure after working for 22 years under then-Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), LeMieux was reared on Florida politics and has spent the past week ramping up for his brief stint on Capitol Hill.

“I’m interested in the way the Senate works. It has its own rhythm to it, its own way of doing things, which may not happen in the private sector or state government,— said LeMieux, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale.

At 40 years old, LeMieux will become the youngest Senator in the chamber when he is sworn in. He will also become the fifth Member appointed to a seat this session, joining a group of unelected Senators that includes Kaufman and Democratic Sens. Roland Burris (Ill.), Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).

He is an atypical freshman to be sure, and onlookers will closely watch as the former Broward County Republican Party chairman and graduate of Georgetown University’s law school serves in the seat coveted by the man who appointed him.

Crist “is running a great campaign for the Senate,— said LeMieux, who ran Crist’s 2006 gubernatorial election. “He and I talk a lot about policy issues, and I think that kind of relationship is very productive. Issues are often not federal issues, but state issues as well.—

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, however, lambasted LeMieux’s appointment.

“Charlie Crist came as close as he could to appointing himself to this position. At a time when so many Floridians are unemployed, and many others are facing foreclosures, we have learned nothing is beyond the pale for Charlie Crist,— DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said.

While critics blast LeMieux as a Crist placeholder, LeMieux said he plans to serve out his 15 months by “[looking] through the prism of the people of Florida.—

He has brought on longtime adviser Vivian Myrtetus to serve in his Washington office and tapped Peter Rummell, former CEO of the St. Joe Co., a prominent Florida land developer, to lead the transition.

Martinez enjoyed plum spots on the Armed Services; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Aging committees. While it’s unclear whether LeMieux will be able to maintain the same portfolio, he did discuss possible committee assignments when he met with McConnell and McCain last week.

“Those decisions haven’t been made yet. I told them of some things I’m interested in,— LeMieux said, noting that, as a former deputy attorney general, he has an interest in law enforcement issues.

Still, the staffer Crist once dubbed “the maestro— for his political abilities struck a modest tone.

“I’m the low person on the totem pole, so I want to serve where I can serve best,— LeMieux quipped.

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