TAMPA -- A possible explanation for Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson's recent dramatic downward slide in polls is a series of PACs that are spending freely on negative ads against him.
In the space of two months, Nelson, seeking a third Senate term, has gone from 10 points ahead of conservative Republican challenger Connie Mack IV to 10 points behind, at least as measured by Rasmussen. During this time Congressman Mack, son of former Florida U.S. Senator Connie Mack III, has done little or nothing to account for the movement. (Mack faces two opponents in the Aug. 14 primary, but is prohibitively ahead of both in the polls.)
On the basis of the new numbers, the Rasmussen poll has shifted the Florida Senate race from leans Democrat to leans Republican. From April well into June, Rasmussen, as well as Quinnipiac, Pubic Policy and other national polls, consistently showed Nelson ahead of Mack, sometimes by double digits.
Probably the biggest PAC player targeting Nelson is American Crossroads, headed by Karl Rove. The Miami Herald reports this group has reserved $6.2 million of airtime before Election Day to tie Nelson to president Obama and his unpopular policies, particularly Obamacare, in the minds of Florida voters. The Nelson buys are part of $70 million the organization, and its sister group, Crossroads GPS, plans to spend on Senate races to support conservative candidates.
Nelson is already tied to Obama politically. He has voted with the administration more than 95 percent of the time in the Senate. Though doubtless feeling the anti-Obama policy heat in Florida, Nelson has attempted to put some space between himself and his president. Nelson says he would like to see the Bush tax cuts extended for everyone making less than $1 million, rather than the comparatively scrooge-like $250,000 the president is boosting. But there is nothing Nelson can do about his vote for Obamacare, which is very unpopular in Florida, particularly with seniors, most of whom vote.
Other PACs active in singing the anti-Nelson song on Florida airwaves are Americans for Prosperity, 60 Plus Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Many of these groups are also airing anti-Obama ads.
These PACs go a long way toward leveling the campaign cash field between Nelson and Mack. As an incumbent, Nelson has been able to put together an available stash of more than $11 million, much of the money collected from outside of Florida. Mack's campaign has only $1.4 million available.
Not surprisingly, Nelson has been crying foul about all this PAC money chasing after his defeat. Nelson campaign spokesman Marley Wilkes spoke darkly of "a handful of billionaires operating in secret." Nelson his own self complained of "shadowy right-wing front groups." Be still, my heart.
Speaking of billionaires, there has been no word yet from the Nelson camp on the possibility that a shadowy billionaire like, just to pick a name out of the air, George Soros, might spend a few quid in Florida to help Nelson out. (That is, when he isn't shelling out to beat Allen West.)
In the Rasmussen survey released Thursday, showing Mack ahead of Nelson among likely Florida votes 47 to 36, Mack holds an even larger lead among women, 48 to 38, than he does among men, 43 to 37. Nelson, who had held one political office or other in Florida since the First Seminole War, is viewed very favorably by 14 percent, but unfavorably by 25. Mack is viewed very favorably by 18 percent and very unfavorably by 14.
No one knows how well the Mack candidacy will stand up when Nelson starts burning through his $11 million-plus. Mack has his weaknesses as a candidate, and Nelson will go after them. But until now, few thought one of the four seats Republicans need to win in November to take the Senate could be Florida.