But until Florida goes to the polls Jan. 31 for the presidential primary, the Senate race has become an afterthought. Former Sen. George LeMieux and former state Rep. Adam Hasner acknowledged this weekend that it's harder to break through to voters while they're focused on picking a presidential nominee.
Still, they were working the crowd at the Republican Party of Florida's annual meeting, hoping to woo party activists and build support for when attention turns to their August primary.
"The focus is on the presidential until the party decides who our Republican nominee will be, but that's going to be soon. Florida will decide the race. After that, starting in February, I think all eyes will turn to the Senate race," said LeMieux. "This Senate race is so important. It's so important to take back the Senate. When they start to focus on the race, the more they learn about the candidates, the better we're going to do."
LeMieux and Hasner are trailing in the polls to U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, who was noticeably absent at the state GOP meeting. But each believes that when the focus shifts to the Senate, they'll be in a better position to get their message out to Republican voters.
"People realize making Obama a one-term president is only half of the equation. We must win back the United States Senate not just with a Republican majority, but with a conservative majority," said Hasner. "Bill Nelson has supported the Obama administration 98 percent of the time."
While most of Florida may not be paying attention to the Senate race, party insiders are, which is why Hasner and LeMieux saw the state GOP meeting as a must-attend event.
"These are the people who make up the backbone of the party. These are the people who are knocking on doors, making phone calls, stuffing envelopes, leading grassroots campaigns in their communities," said Hasner. "And communicating with them at an event like this has always been an important part of our strategy."
Apparently Mack is also focused on the presidential primaryor. He didn't attend the meeting, choosing instead to campaign for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"That's been the focus, the political focus of his schedule," said Mack spokesman David James. "He is campaigning for Romney in Florida."
Mack, who is married to California Rep. Mary Bono Mack, has been criticized for not spending enough time in the state.
"Connie spends a lot of time out of state in California and Colorado and every American has a right to do that. But I think the people of Florida are going to want somebody who lives here in Florida, who works here in Florida and spends time here in Florida," said LeMieux.
Tony DiMatteo, a state Republican Party executive committee member from Pinellas County, agreed that attention is not being paid to the Senate race.
"Right now everything is presidential," he said. "The one good thing about an early (presidential) primary for our Senate candidates is that once they leave after Jan. 31 never to be seen again before the convention, the Senate candidates will be front and center."