A Further Perspective

Big Mack Attack in Florida

The new Republican in the Florida Senate race is not a no-name.

By 11.14.11

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Congressman Connie Mack IV of Cape Coral (near Fort Myers) says he plans to join the race for the 2012 Republican U.S. Senate nomination from Florida, though he hasn't made if official yet.

Official or not, recent polls show Mack, son of former U.S. Senator Connie Mack III (grandson of the Philadelphia Athletics long-time manager and owner) to be an instant front-runner. So far in front, in fact, to be 23 points ahead of the second guy. What's more, he may actually be competitive with liberal Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who is seeking his third term.

Quinnipiac found Mack to be the choice of 32 percent of Republican voters polled. Doubtless some voters are confusing this Mack with his father, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2001, there being no reason for anyone not from Southwest Florida to recognize a Fort Myers congressman. If Connie IV prevails, after it's sorted out which Mack is actually running, he would get to run against Nelson, who, with a 98 percent record of voting with the Obama administration should be vulnerable in center-right Florida.

Attorney George LeMieux, who served the final 16 months of former Senator Mel Martinez's term, was runner up with a distant nine percent. Plant City businessman Mike McCalister was third at six percent. Craig Miller and Adam Hasner each rang up two percent. That is within the 2.9 percent margin of error, so these two candidates, admirable in many ways, may actually have negative support.

These results have to be particularly discouraging for former Florida House Majority Leader Hasner, who has been campaigning for more than a year and has attempted to market himself as the next Marco Rubio. So far, in terms of voter reaction, he's closer to the next Jon Huntsman. Hasner has connected with various conservative groups and personalities who've endorsed him. But so far he's made about as much impression on Republican voters as Georges Carpentier made on Jack Dempsey (which, Carpentier admitted after the fight, was none at all).

The most encouraging numbers in the Q-Poll for Republicans are that Mack matches up just two points behind Nelson at 40 to 42, much better than any of the pre-Mack candidates have been able to manage in a Republican race that the word lackluster doesn't begin to describe. 

Of course it's a bit early for Florida Republican officials to start high-fiving. Republicans have just experienced another candidate who jumped out in front in the presidential sweepstakes before he was even in the race, only to fade in fairly short order. How's that Rick Perry candidacy working out now?

Perry lost traction even before it became clear that his first calamitous debate performance was not a fluke. He lost support after it became clear he might not be as conservative as the Republican base thought him to be.

One of the issues conservatives consider Perry to be weak on is immigration. Mack may turn out to have similar problems. He's been harsh in his criticism of Arizona's immigration law, going so far as to call it Nazi-like. (Yes, I know. That's what Democrats do.) He also supported liberal former Florida governor Charlie Crist in his Senate race against Rubio in 2010. This one will also require some explaining.

Mack may be able to finesse these things. He has a generally conservative record in his two and a half terms in the U.S. House. And Republicans are really looking for someone they can rally behind.

 Mack probably won't be gigged on the fact that he passed on the Senate race in March. Here's what he said then: "I've got two small children and it's hard enough to spend a lot of good quality time now. I have a wife. They are all very important to me and at the end of the day family has to be number one."

All right. Nobody believes office holders or potential candidates when they say they're passing up a race to spend more time with the family. The translation to that old chestnut is, "I'm not in because I don't believe I can win." Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a fund-raising colossus, was in the race in March, and the "experts" had him penciled in for the win. He has since dropped out of a race that so far has had all the excitement of a Wally Cox retrospective with all the thrills taken out.

There's almost a year before voters finally decide who Florida's next U.S. Senator will be. Now red Florida is represented in the Senate by one conservative and one liberal. That could change. And for the time being, Florida Republicans can at least take comfort in the fact that they have a leader in the Senate sweepstakes who is not named None of the Above.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.