GOP Leadership Backing Evers in Senate Race
Top Senate Republican leaders have chosen one GOP House member over another in a Panhandle Senate primary, saying Rep. Greg Evers has done a better job raising money and is simply more conservative than primary opponent Rep. Dave Murzin.
The endorsement is the second major one in a week for Evers, following the announcement that he has the backing of the National Rifle Association, which is making the election of Evers to the Senate one of its top priorities.
Some Republicans this year have expressed anger at party leadership for taking sides in GOP primaries, but Sen. Don Gaetz, one of the members of Senate leadership behind the endorsement, said that's always happened, and said there were two primary reasons for backing Evers, a farmer from Baker, over Murzin.
Gaetz said the best way Republican candidates can help GOP legislative leadership is to show they can garner support in the district, as measured in part by having broad financial support from a large number of donors.
“Did they go home and develop a strong base of support,” is a major criterion in gaining support from the party leadership, Gaetz said. Evers and several other candidates that leadership has backed, including Jim Norman in the Tampa Bay area and Lizbeth Benacquisto in South Florida are doing that, he said.
By implication, Murzin hasn't raised enough money.
Through the end of the year, Evers had raised $217,730 to just under $76,000 raised by Murzin, R-Pensacola.
Gaetz also said that Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, who will follow current Senate President Jeff Atwater, wants to move the Senate to the right and he is trying to help him with that, trying to aid candidates in primaries that they see as more conservative. .
“Sen. Haridopolos has said that he believes, as our caucus leader, that he wants to have a new Senate, and by that I know he means a more conservative Senate,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in an interview with the News Service.
Haridopolos released a statement saying that Evers shared his belief that “conservative means that public servants have an obligation to keep taxes low and allow Floridians to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.”
Neither Gaetz nor Haridopolos cited particular votes where Evers voted with the conservative position and Murzin didn't, which angered Murzin, who said in an interview that he has strong conservative credentials too.
“Florida Chamber Honor Roll, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, I got that one,” Murzin said beginning to tick off his conservative bona fides. “I have an A-plus rating from the NRA. Friend of Free Enterprise. Retail Federation Legislator of the Year. Here's another one, I don't know what this one is, but it doesn't say 'Pathetic Liberal.'”
Murzin said he thinks it comes down to not raising enough money – but that party leaders should leave the decision up to the voters of Senate District 2, the far-western Panhandle district being vacated by retiring Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview.
“The party leadership ought to stay out of a lot of things,” Murzin said.
The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida endorsement that came earlier this week cited Evers' strong support of Second Amendment, self-defense and anti-crime issues. To anyone who has driven through the Panhandle and seen billboards touting Evers' NRA ties, the endorsement wasn't much of a suprise.
Marion Hammer, executive director of Unified Sportsmen and a past president of the NRA, said Evers' strong gun rights stance was best exemplified by his sponsoring a couple years ago of the measure that would prevent employers from being able to tell workers that they can't keep a gun in their car in the workplace parking lot. The measure pitted the NRA against much of the business community.
Murzin voted with Evers in favor of the bill, Hammers acknowledged, but she alleged that Murzin worked behind the scenes to keep the bill from coming to a vote because of his ties to the business community.
“I guess he thinks we don't know what goes on,” said Hammer. “Dave Murzin has not been a friend to gun owners.”
Asked what the NRA would be doing to help Evers, Hammer replied, “we're going to do what it takes.”
Evers said in a statement released by his campaign that he was proud to have the backing of “fellow conservative Republicans.”
“ I share these leaders' lower tax, more freedom principles and I know that my fellow Panhandle Republicans do too,” Evers said.