Every time I ask GOP sources about up-and-coming Republicans who might be positioned to provide some communal companionship for the lonely Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va), now the only Jewish Republican in Congress, the first name I generally hear is Adam Hasner, the former state House Majority Leader.
Now it’s official; in an e-blast to supporters, the Brooklyn-born Hasner announced what has been rumored for months: that he will see the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson, once considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Dems facing reelection next year, but whose poll numbers have been looking a little better.
“To keep America the greatest country in the world, we need Republicans who won’t just challenge Democrats on spending, taxes, and debt, but leaders willing to challenge their fellow Republicans as well,” he said.
That’s Tea Party talk, and it could set up an interesting test of that movement’s strength in the politically complex environment of Florida.
University of Florida political scientist Kenneth Wald doesn’t think it’s a sure-win formula for Hasner.
“He’s pretty much unknown outside south Florida and that’s not the center of the GOP primary electorate,” Wald said. “The Tea Party connection probably won’t help him much because other candidates, like Haridopolos, have better credentials with them.”
State Senate President Mike Haridopolos is another leading contender for the GOP Senate nomination in what could be a crowded field.
What about Jewish voters? Will they be eager to send a Jewish Republican to the U.S. Senate?
“I very much doubt Hasner will do well among Jewish voters beyond the friends and neighbors effect,” Wald said. His Tea Party credentials “will not help him among rank and file Jews.”
Then again, Florida voters have been doing the unexpected in recent elections, Wald conceded.
You can bet that Jewish Republicans across the country will open their wallets for Hasner, a favorite on the Jewish GOP circuit, a big plus in what is expected to be a very expensive race.
Health care will be a huge issue nationally, with the Republicans attacking last year’s Democratic health care reform law and Democrats arguing the GOP wants to gut Medicare and Medicaid. That will go double for Florida, with its big population of retirees – many of them Jewish.
Can Hasner convince older voters that the conservative, market-based approach to health care reform is better than what he and fellow Republicans call “Obamacare?” Will he be hurt by Rep. Paul Ryan’s House GOP budget proposal that calls for major changes to Medicare and Medicaid – and Democratic attempts to portray those proposals as a backdoor way of removing the guarantee of services?
Hasner, who has criticized the Obama administration’s Middle East policies, is sure to make Israel a big issue when he stumps in Jewish communities. But that’s an old story in Florida politics, and it’s far from clear if the tactic will work in an election that is widely expected to turn on a handful of close-to-home issues like jobs, the national debt, health care and entitlements.
But Florida analysts say Hasner is building an impressive statewide grassroots network that may give him an edge in the battle.
Stay tuned, this is going to be an interesting one.