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Is Sen. Thad Altman Now Looking at Major GOP Primary Opposition?

April 26, 2012 - 6:00pm

Sen. Thad Altman of Melbourne -- described by some among the GOP faithful as "a moderate Republican" -- could be facing major challenges from members of his own party as he prepares to run for a second term.

First elected in 2008, Altmans district (SD 24) currently includes parts of Brevard,? ?Orange and Seminole counties. The new district, SD 16, passed by the Senate and approved by the Florida Supreme Court on Friday, contains parts of Brevard and Indian River counties.

Two state representatives have garnered some buzz as possible primary opponents, though sourcesclose to them -- publicly anyway -- say it is unlikely either man will challenge Altman this year.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, who currently represents parts of Brevard County, has not been coy about wanting to move up to the Senate, and some of his associates have even said he fancies a run for Congress down the road. Behind the scenes,? ?Workman has told local tea party members he is seriously thinking about making a run against Altman. One legislative aide said,?Workman,? ?in the Republican Party,? ?sees himself as a rock star.?

State Rep.? ?John Tobia, R-Melbourne, has also sent signals that he could go for the Senate.? ?When asked if he is running for re-election for his House seat,? Tobia? said he is waiting to see the final Senate maps.?

Dr.Stephanie Haridopolos,? ?the wife of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has received some buzz as a possible candidate to challenge Altman. In? ?2011,? ?GOP leaders asked Haridopolos? ?to run for the seat that her husband was leaving due to term limits but nothing came of those talks. ?

Bolstered by her local medicine practice and the Your Health With Dr. Stephanie Web video and various columns on health matters, Haridopolos has strong name recognition in the district.? ?She has also modeled in fashion shows and participated in other events that raised money for local charities.? Her profile is also increasing in Tallahassee. Earlier in the month, ?Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appointed ?Haridopolos to the newly created Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns.

Still, while her profile is rising, local political insiders insist that Haridopolos will not run against Altman this year.

Another name generating less buzz but enough not be ruled out is Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who seems content to keep her seat in the Florida House. The Mayfield team has already started petitioning as the widow of former state Rep. Stan Mayfield starts her bid for a third term in the House.

Altmans support for certain policies has drawn the opposition of conservative groups, including some elements of? t?he tea party movement,? t?he local Ronald Reagan Club and even members of the local Republican Executive Committee. These conservatives have branded Altman a moderate Republican and? ?a RINO? (R?epublican in Name Only?)?.?

Conservatives point to two issues where they think Altman was on the wrong side: high-speed rail and public unions.

Altman was very open and forthright in his support for high-speed rail projects.? ?In March 2011,? ?he joined state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, in a lawsuit,? ?suing Gov.? ?Rick Scott for turning down federal funding for a high-speed rail project in Central Florida.

Altman also opposed Scotts proposal to make union members contribute to the Florida Retirement System -- a proposal heavily supported by Republicans and conservatives including Workman, who helped lead the charge for the proposal in the House.

Still, if either Tobia or Workman decides to primary Altman, they could face problems and questions about their own records. Despite railing against President Barack Obamas stimulus package in the Florida House,? both ?Workman and Tobia voted for the? ?2009? ?budget -- the one that included money from the federal stimulus. Both representatives at first supported high-speed rail, shifting later on.? BothWorkman and Tobia supported then-Gov. Charlie Crists budget in 2010, angering some conservatives who were against increasing state spending by? ?$4? ?billion in the middle of an economic recession.?

Despite the mounting pressure, Altman cannot be counted out. He is a powerhouse compared to the others when it comes to fundraising.? ?The latest campaign reports show? ?the four-year senator raising? more than ?$150,000 in this election cycle and keeping his powder dry with more than $107,000 in the bank. Workman has proven to be no slouch in fundraising either, bringing in $118,000? but spending almost $58,000 so far. In terms of money-raking, Tobia is simply not in the league of either Altman or even Workman. So far this cycle, Tobia has gleaned almost $32,000, but he's been burning through it, spending almost $23,000 of it.

Altman insists he is a conservative and critics need to look at his record a little bit closer.?

On fiscal issues,? ?Altman supported phasing out the state corporate income taxes and has backed? repealing the provisions of cap-and-trade regulations on Florida.? Altman also o?pposed the Internet sales tax bill while supporting a host of conservative positions, including tort reform, property tax caps, privatization of toll roads, school choice,? ?prayer in schools and expanding the rights ofgun owners in Florida.?

On immigration,? ?Altman supported mandatory use of E-Verify, which was opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other Republicans in the state Senate,? ?where the measure failed.?

Still, if he faces opposition in the upcoming Republican primaries,? ?Altman will have to prepare for a challenge from the right, leaving the incumbent in a position where he will have to out-conservative his rivals.

Altman insisted on Friday that he would be prepared if any Republican stepped up to challenge him in the primary. Pointing to his decades in politics, including serving as a Brevard County commissioner and serving five years in the Florida House of Representatives before heading up to the Senate, Altman said that he had wide support in the community.
"I don't know who may run," Altman said, "but we're ready for them."

Ed Dean, a veteran journalist and media figure who hosts the Ed Dean Radio Show, wrote this story especially for Sunshine State News. Kevin Derby contributed to it.

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