With the Florida Republican Senate primary to determine a nominee for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.) still two months away, George Allen, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is intervening in the race to make a rare endorsement of one of several Republicans running.
Calling former Housing Secretary Mel Martinez “someone with great life experiences” and a “true common-sense conservative,” Sen. Allen (Va.) endorsed Martinez in the August 31st primary. Asked why he was getting involved in a primary, Allen said, “When you see someone with outstanding credentials such as Mel’s, you should come in for him–not just with talk, but with action.” Allen said Martinez was his party’s best hope of winning the seat Graham is leaving.
Allen emphasized that he was endorsing Martinez personally and not as chairman of the NRSC. He also said the NRSC “is not spending money on any candidates in the primary.” But Allen, who is frequently sought out by major party donors for advice on whom to support, is sure to be an asset to Martinez’s campaign.
Interestingly, Martinez is not the leading candidate in the primary. A recent Mason-Dixon poll shows former Rep. Bill McCollum leading him by 27% to 18%. Former state House Speaker Johnny Byrd is at 6%; businessman Doug Gallagher, 5%; and former Judicial Watch head Larry Klayman, 1%.
Although Martinez is considered a strong conservative on most issues, the former president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers is controversial among some on the right for making large contributions in the past to liberal Democrats. According to Federal Election Commission reports, Martinez contributed $1,000 to Florida’s Graham in 1985; $1,000 to Sen. Fritz Hollings (D.-S.C.) in 1990; and $250 to Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.) in 1989. Martinez also contributed $500 in 1989 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to aid its efforts to maintain a Democratic Senate majority.
Asked about these donations, Martinez said: “I did so in the 1980s, when [the Democratic senators] were all supporting [the Voice of America’s anti-Castro] Radio Marti. My motivation was keeping people informed in Cuba.”
He said he switched from the Democratic Party to Republican Party in 1981 because of admiration for Ronald Reagan and that he had voted for Republicans for President ever since Richard Nixon.
Allen left open the possibility he might get involved in Republican Senate primaries in other states. In Oklahoma, where Republican Sen. Don Nickles is retiring, Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys is competing with stalwart conservative former Rep. Tom Coburn and State Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony. Beer magnate Peter Coors and former Rep. Bob Schaffer are vying for nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell in Colorado. Sources close to Allen say the NRSC chairman would bless Humphreys and Coors should he become involved.