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LeMieux Returns to Law Firm; Nelson Raising Money

His polling numbers are weak, he recently said he wouldn’t run in the next election if “there’s somebody who would do as equal or better job,” and now outgoing Sen. George LeMieux has taken a top position with his former law firm.

Still think he’s among the likeliest contenders to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012? We’re not so sure.

Next week, LeMieux will formally return to Gunster, one of Florida’s “oldest and largest full-service business law firms,” where the Florida Republican will become a shareholder and serve as chairman of the board of directors, according to an announcement released this week by the firm.
“Gunster’s attorneys and clients are at the center of many of the critical issues facing Florida,” LeMieux said in a statement included in the firm’s announcement. “I look forward to making meaningful contributions to help those efforts, and to help Gunster expand throughout Florida.”

LeMieux, appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist to replace Sen. Mel Martinez in 2009, will be replaced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R) when the new Congress is sworn in Tuesday. On the same day, LeMieux will begin his new role with Gunster, where he will “resume his legal practice and provide corporate counseling to the firm’s clients” in addition to leading the firm’s “strategic plan to expand to every major business center in Florida.”
While the move does not rule out a Senate bid in 2012, leading such an expansion at a major law firm and trying to unseat an incumbent Senator at the same time could prove difficult — especially as other potential Republican challengers are emerging.
Asked by the Palm Beach Post earlier in the month about what factors would influence his decision, LeMieux sounded like someone preparing to step aside. “If I feel that there’s somebody who would do as equal or better job than me for our country, then it would be smarter for me to step aside and allow me to spend more time with my four kids who are 7 and under.”

Should LeMieux decide to challenge Nelson, one of the last Democrats to hold statewide office among a sea of Florida Republicans, recent polling suggests it might not be easy to win a Republican primary nomination.
Nelson leads LeMieux 47 percent to 36 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, according to a mid-December survey of 1,034 Florida voters taken by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.
But perhaps more troubling for the outgoing Senator is another PPP sample of GOP voters. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has indicated he will not challenge Nelson, is by far their favorite candidate. When Bush is excluded from a pool of potential candidates, just 11 percent of Florida Republicans selected LeMieux as their favorite.
Pollster Tom Jensen wrote that LeMieux has shown “continued incredible weakness … in pretty much all polling.”

“His head start as a Senator for the last year and change has done little to familiarize and endear himself with Florida voters,” Jensen wrote. “In the general election part of this poll he did worse against Nelson than [Rep. Connie] Mack [IV] and posted a similar margin to [Senate President Mike] Haridopolos who hasn’t had the incredible platform of a Senate seat already.”

Nelson is already fundraising for his re-election bid, telling supporters in an e-mail Thursday, “Republicans desperately want to defeat me in 2012 and to that end the GOP is declaring me one of their top targets.”

He sounded a similar note to other Democrats by warning about “shadowy special interest groups” and said he’d like donations before the New Year’s Eve deadline to show “a clear demonstration of strength.”

“[S]how the Republicans we are ready to fight,” Nelson wrote. “In 2006, a key component of our victory was that we were prepared. When critical moments came early in the campaign we were ready and that made a huge difference. That’s why it’s important we get off to an early start.”

Roll Call Politics rates this race a Tossup.