GOP Senate candidates speak to Florida newspaper editors

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Each candidate stuck to the talking points of dissing Charlie Crist, reforming healthcare, lowering taxes, deporting illegal immigrants and eliminating federal programs.

The theme of the day, though: cutting spending.

Haridopolos, the 41-year-old state Senate president from Brevard County touted his frugal Tallahassee experience throughout most of the candidates' forum.

"A lot of people talk about what they would like to do," he said. "I've done it."

LeMieux, 42, who can't seem to shake the stigma of once serving as chief of staff for Charlie Crist, called the debt crisis "the number one threat to America."

He spent much of the forum insisting that he and Crist did not agree on everything.

Additionally, the GOP hopefuls claimed no clear evidence proves that climate change is man-made.

"The whole global warming, thing, I question the science," said 59-year-old McCalister. "I'm not seeing any solid data."

Hasner, 41, who is a representative from Broward County, agreed and suggested that full funding for the Environmental Protection Agency go the way of the dinosaurs, putting private parties over planet protection.

"There should be no sacred cows in government spending," he said.

Budgets for the National Labor Relations Board and the military would also fall victim to Hasner's red pen, if elected.

The candidates predictably criticized Washington in general and zeroed in on Obama and Democrats in Congress.

"Bill Nelson is the biggest cheerleader of the Obama administration," Hasner said. "We can do better. We need to get America back on the right track."

Just as audience members may have thought they were seeing quadruple, LeMieux was the sole brave soul to disagree with Gov. Rick Scott's decision to rejct $2.4 billion in federal money for high-speed rail. The former Senator said it would be better to have the money here than to let it stimulate another state's economy.

Another spatting point: Haridopolos strayed from the pack on the topic of troop withdrawal, admitting that Obama has the right idea in drawbacks since "we are stretched thin at home."

McCalister fervently disagreed, saying "It's like a football game that you watch on TV: They call the play, and they cover their face. … You don't tell the other folks what your time schedules are."

He added that he was only person on the stage who ever wore a uniform or held a top secret clearance.

Protestors gathered outside the convention site at the Renaissance Vinoy with signs saying "Pink Slip Puppets," a reference to the Pink Slip Rick demonstration that is scheduled to take place at the conference today, when Scott will address the group's luncheon.

Now entering the red corner, a retired army colonel joined Florida's three Republican U.S. Senate candidates as the frenemies addressed a ballroom full of newspaper editors Thursday.

Hesitant to stray far from party lines, retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former state Rep. Adam Hasner and former U.S. Senator George Lemieux patted each other on the back and varied little in their policy opinions at the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of News Editors annual convention in St. Petersburg.

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