ORLANDO – The problem with politicians today, Craig Miller believes, is they’re out of touch with what regular workers and small business owners are going through in these challenging economic times.
“I built a successful restaurant career by talking to people in the back door of my restaurant,” said Miller, a resident of Winter Park, who has worked for restaurant chains like Red Lobster, Uno and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. He led that last company through four years of record growth and profits as its president and chief executive officer, and later served as Florida’s tourism commissioner in 2007 under Gov. Jeb Bush.
This morning, Miller announced he was running for the U.S. Senate next year, seeking the Republican nomination so he can challenge two-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. Miller said his campaign would be based on bringing common sense back to Washington, improving the economy by lifting burdensome regulations and taxes off the shoulders of struggling businesses, and, most importantly, connecting with average workers by learning exactly what they do for a living.
And to do that, he announced a plan called “Miller on Main Street” – his effort to learn first hand what average workers do every day to pay their bills.
“I’m here today to announce a new initiative,” Miller said during a press conference at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Orlando. “It’s designed to keep me engaged with the people, to find out what goes on in the real world. If you’re going to represent the people of Florida, you have to be connected to the people of Florida.”
Miller said he would work a normal shift twice a month starting this month, and he would continue to do this through the end of his first six-year term in the Senate. Along the way, he said, he would listen to the concerns of hard-working Floridians and learn from them, on what are expected to be 178 trips down “Main Street.”
“Staying in tune with those concerns is paramount,” he said, adding that all too often, politicians head to Washington and forgot about what their constituents really care about. There’s no better example of that, he said, than the ongoing fight in Congress over whether to raise the ceiling on the debt limit to pay the nation’s bills.
“We’ve created a false crisis that has jeopardized our economic vitality,” Miller said. “We’re dealing with a false crisis, a debt ceiling crisis.”
Instead, he proposed a “short term fix” that included an across the board $2 drop in federal spending, balanced out by a $1 increase in the debt ceiling.
If Miller’s Main Street plan sounds familiar, it is. Former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, did the same thing in his first statewide campaign in 1978, when he called it “Workdays.” Miller said that while he and Graham represent different parties, he always liked the idea and felt Graham demonstrated that he understood the concerns of common people.
“You need to get out on Main Street and spend a little time working with regular people,” he said. “Good ideas come from all walks of life. I thought even back then, ‘What a great idea.’ “
Miller said one of his top priorities would be to spur stronger job growth by making it easier for businesses to invest in new workers.
“We’re in a cycle now that’s very challenging for job creations,” he said. “Where I would start would be to do everything we can to lower regulation and taxes, and taxes on consumers.”
Raising taxes now, he said, would be “taking money off Main Street.”
He also encouraged small business owners to hire him for a day, by logging on to www.Miller2012.com.
“If you’re a small business out there and are interested in having me work for you for a day, go to my web site,” he said. “What I’d really like to see is the small business community come forward and take an interest in what I’m doing. If you want something out of life, you have to work for it.”
Miller won’t have a clear shot at the GOP nomination, which has already attracted a crowded field that includes former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, ex-Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, 2010 gubernatorial candidate Mike McCalister, businessman Ron Rushing, and state Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
Political consultant Doug Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report radio show on the Phoenix Network, predicted that Miller could emerge as the strongest GOP nominee, and said he has a good shot at ending up as the candidate who takes on Nelson.
“With Miller, you have a proven track record of business accomplishment and of actually creating jobs,” said Guetzloe, a veteran of hundreds of statewide and local campaigns in Florida. “None of the other GOP candidates can make that claim.”
Nelson won his first term in the U.S. Senate in 2000 with 51 percent of the vote, defeating Congressman Bill McCollum. He was reelected with 61 percent in 2006 against former Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
This race has been ranked as a potentially competitive one, but not among the tightest races in the nation next year. The Cook Political Report ranks this race as “Leans Democrat,” meaning the Democratic incumbent is vulnerable but still has a slight advantage.
Another leading political analyst site, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, also ranks the race as “Leans Democrat.”
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