NAPLES — Craig Miller is hoping his experience at the helm of a popular steak house will translate to a successful Senate campaign.
Miller, 61, announced he planned to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson. The former CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House was in Naples on Tuesday as part of a state-wide tour to announce his candidacy.
Miller said he’s spent “much of the past 16 months” meeting with Floridians and talking to them about the current state of country. Through those discussions he said he found that Floridians are “fed up with government fueled by career politicians” and were looking for a leader who has “lived within their means and is more like them.”
Miller, who started is restaurant career as a dishwasher, said he’s the guy who can fill that void.
“I never forgot what it is like to stand in the kitchen with my hands in hot water for 12 hours (and) to work hard,” he said.
Miller, a native Floridian currently living in Winter Park, got his start in the restaurant business as a junior in high school.
He got his start on the management side of the business with Red Lobster, and eventually went on to work with Uno Restaurants and Furr’s Restaurant Group before joining Ruth’s Chris Steak House in 2004.
Miller led the company for four years, but was forced to leave in 2008 after the chain’s profits dropped and stock value fell nearly 70 percent.
The Orlando Sentinel reported his severance package as $2.4 million.
But despite the events surrounding his departure from Ruth’s Chris, Miller said he believes his decades of corporate experience will make a transition to an elected official easier.
“Bill Nelson has been in politics for 40 years, approximately the same amount of time I’ve been working on Main Street,” Miller said during the Naples event. “He is out of touch.”
Miller — who is running on a fiscal conservative platform — said Nelson’s continual support of President Barack Obama and Democratic-backed legislation has been detrimental to Floridians. Miller called his potential general election opponent “a Democratic puppet.”
While Miller said he didn’t consider himself a tea party candidate, he said he shared many of the frustrations the movement’s supporters have and would welcome their support.
He’ll need all the support he can get. The former U.S. Air Force staff sergeant joined a growing number of Republicans vying for the nomination.
Former Sen. George LeMieux, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former state Rep. Adam Hasner and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister are already in the race.
While Miller says he’s far from a career politician, he does have some experience running for office.
Miller placed third in a five-way race for Congress last year, trailing then Republican state Rep. Sandy Adams by 1,616 votes. Adams was eventually elected to the United States House of Representatives.
While Miller spent nearly $560,000 of his own money on his congressional race, he doesn’t plan to self-finance his Senate campaign, said campaign manager Paul Ciaramitaro.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.