Dr. Dave Weldon is the latest Republican to be “recruited” by a concerned party and its allied special interests to seek the Senate seat being defended by Bill Nelson. The Politico reported on Thursday that Weldon is interested in seeking the seat. Weldon’s Congressional service ended in 2009 and he has remained popular in Nelson’s home area of the Space Coast throughout his entire career. Weldon is a formidable campaigner who is better positioned to galvanize the GOP base than legislative lightweight Connie Mack IV or George LeMeiux, whose blind ambition was shown by his disloyalty to his political mentor, Governor Charlie Crist. He’s also a reactionary conservative whose election would give the Republicans a forceful spokesperson, but is also prone to numerous gaffes.
Weldon won three Congressional races against strong and well-funded Democratic candidates in his first four elections. His formula was running as far to the right as possible and echoing the conservative talking points on every issue. While far from inspiring or exciting on the stump, Weldon has discipline as a campaigner and an ability to stay on message that Connie Mack IV lacks. However, as I observed when consulting on a 2002 race against the Congressman, he does not take kindly to criticism of himself or the GOP agenda. Weldon’s “expertise” on Health Care was often used by the Republicans on a national level whenever needed in front of a camera, something almost certain to attract heavy ads attacking Senator Nelson’s support of the Affordable Health Care Act.
All of this having been said, the issue Dave Weldon was most closely associated during his Congressional tenure was Terry Schiavo. The issue was a political loser for the Republicans here in Florida, and was recognized as such by the astute moderate GOP core that at the time ran the Florida Senate. But unlike the moderate Senators and Attorney General Charlie Crist, Weldon put the issue at the forefront and began the process which saw the Republican repudiated nationally in 2006. On the Schiavo matter it was Weldon who introduced the Congressional legislation to intervene in the matter. Weldon also used his background as a doctor to twist the medical facts of the case. [The Republicans nationally were tone deaf to political reality- the infamous Terry Schiavo memo that circulated among GOP leaders theorized that the Schiavo issue could be used to unseat Senator Nelson in 2006.]
The Schiavo case was in many ways the beginning of the end for the Bush Administration and the GOP Congressional majority (circa 1994-2006). While other issues such as Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War became bigger national issues in 2006, the seeds for electoral change were planted by Weldon and his conservative allies. Here in Florida, where so-called conservatives trampled on state sovereignty, the pragmatism of the State Senate led by the late Jim King ensured that the GOP’s dominance of electoral politics continued unimpeded.
But the national Republican party began a demise that eventually led to the election of Barack Obama. Dave Weldon’s potential return to the national political scene against Bill Nelson, whose opposition to federal intervention in the Schiavo case helped ensure his re-election, could liven up the 2012 elections. Or it simply could prove disastrous for the Republicans.