If Craig Miller runs for the House this fall, as national Republicans would like, it's a safe bet the bar will be open at his Election Night party.
Democrats blasted Miller -- the former CEO of Ruth's Chris Steak House Inc., and a potential GOP recruit to run against Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla. -- on Thursday for opposing proposals for federal laws on drunk driving.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's research shop dug up a few doozy quotes from Miller's days as a restaurateur and e-mailed them to reporters, with the snappy headline "It's Miller Time." "Once 0.08 becomes law, why not 0.05 or 0.02?" Miller told Nation's Restaurant News in 2000 about attempts to set blood alcohol standards for driving. "The day the American public feels they are committing an illegal act by consuming an adult beverage and driving home will be the day our industry is hurt by all of this." A year later, he was still at it. "I'm in the adult beverage business," Miller told the restaurant publication in 2001. "I serve alcoholic beverages because my guests want them. And if laws are passed, supported by a business partner of mine, that criminalize the behavior of my guests, then that doesn't sit well with me."
The quotes came complete with some over-the-top outrage from DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson. "It's increasingly clear that Craig Miller is ok with families being in danger on the roadway as long as he gets his payday," Ferguson said. Chalk that up to the DCCC's zeal to define Miller in voters' minds before he can enter the race -- or keep him out altogether.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which stepped in to defend Miller since he's not yet a candidate, said the dispute was a matter of protecting the Orlando area's thriving bars and restaurants. "Surely Suzanne Kosmas wouldn't attack Craig Miller for standing up for the hospitality industry and the tens of thousands of 24th District voters it employs?" NRCC spokesman Andy Seré.
The whole exchange is enough to make you want a drink. (Just don't drive afterward.) But it's a classic example of the type of low-grade skirmishes the national party organizations engage in all the time in districts around the country, trying to throw obstacles in the way of potential recruits or step on the opposing party's message. Will anyone actually vote for Kosmas because Miller opposed a federal drunk-driving statute 10 years ago? Probably not. But might this sort of thing make Miller's business background look a little less impressive on second glance? Possibly. Or at least, that's what the DCCC is hoping.