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A grandson and namesake of one of baseball’s most iconic managers, former Sen. Connie Mack III is one of the most popular politicians in recent Florida history. After representing Southwest Florida for three terms in the House of Representatives, Mack in 1988 became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win Florida’s Class I Senate seat. Six years later, Mack won re-election with over 70% of the vote, becoming Florida’s only Republican Senator to serve two terms, and also the most recent politician to win all 67 of Florida’s counties.
Connie Mack IV, therefore, has had quite a legacy to live up to. And twelve years after his father retired from the Senate, the younger Mack is waging a strong campaign to return the seat to the Republican column.
Bill Nelson, a milquetoast Democrat who had bounced from office to office in Florida, won Sen. Mack III’s open seat in 2000, and has held it since. Nelson carved out a moderate, inoffensive image during his first six years in Congress, eliciting at worst apathy and at best modest approval from Florida voters. This image propelled him to a decisive re-election over a controversial Republican in 2006, but Nelson has faced increased scrutiny–and taken several controversial votes–in his second term.
After Nelson vacillated on, and ultimately cast a deciding vote for, the White House healthcare bill, Republicans set their sights on his seat, but were unable to recruit former Gov. Jeb Bush (perhaps the most beloved Florida Republican) into the race. Nelson, for a time, appeared safe.
Enter the younger Mack, 44, who won election to his father’s old House seat in Fort Myers in 2004, and has positioned himself as a libertarian-leaning conservative in his four terms in Congress. Mack first considered the race in early 2011, shortly after Gov. Bush declined to run, but opted against a bid for family reasons, deferring to the handful of Republicans already in the field.
Yet by fall 2011, the other Republican candidates–including former Sen. George LeMieux–had failed to keep up with Nelson in fundraising or polling. The party again turned to Mack, and this time, he jumped in–and delivered where the other candidates could not, raising over $3 million for his campaign.
Mack’s first round of advertisements, however, turned the tide of the race. The ads–which borrowed from the script of many successful Republican ads from 2010–criticized Nelson for his vote for the stimulus, and introduced Mack to the state’s voters. Within three months, Mack’s name recognition rose from 50% to 80%, and he led in two of the three polls of the race conducted in July.
Mack has been one of a handful of swing-state Republican Senate candidates to run ahead of Mitt Romney in recent polling. Part of this advantage may stem from the “Mack Penny Plan,” a concrete, if not overly simplistic, plan to balance the budget–an area where Romney has been hesitant to offer defined solutions. Part may also stem from his famous name; Mack IV features baseball imagery on his campaign website as a nod to his great-grandfather, and Connie III has remained a visible and popular figure in Florida politics well into his retirement. If some voters think Mack IV is his father when they cast their ballot, Florida Republicans won’t complain.
There are 99 days until the election, but this has become clear: Connie IV is his own Mack now. And he has a chance to build on the accomplishments of the men who have carried his name.
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