With U.S. Rep. Connie Mack set to enter the race for the U.S. Senate, his new opponents welcomed him with the tag that is set to be used against him as a bludgeon: “Washington insider” writes Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
Mack’s advisers began confirming late Wednesday that the congressman would soon enter the race, despite having already announced his decision to stay out. “Not only will he be the nominee of the Republican Party, but will defeat the out-of-step, liberal Senator Bill Nelson,” spokesman David James told POLITICO.
But opponents were already sharpening their knives for Mack, who would enter the race with high name identification at least in part based on the fame of his father, a former U.S. senator, and his great-grandfather, a baseball manager for more than 50 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Should he get past four rivals for the GOP nomination, Mack would take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
The first blast came from Mike McCalister, a tea-party favorite who has continued to poll well despite never holding elected office. McCalister issued a welcome rich with sarcasm.
“He knows first-hand from his many years working with the Washington establishment how broken our government is and I’m certain that voters will closely examine his record on job creation, immigration, and government spending,” McCalister said. “As I continue to travel the state talking to Tea Party, 9/12, Republican, and other conservative leaders, I am more confident than ever that they want an outsider not tainted by years of political deal making.”
His opponents weren’t far behind. Former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, who won a high-profile straw poll of conservative activists in Orlando last month, dispensed with the generic ?elcome to the race” message to begin outlining what his campaign said would be significant differences with Mack.
“There is no time to waste in starting that conversation with the people of Florida, who will have to decide if another Washington incumbent can solve the problems Washington created in the first place,” spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement.
Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who was in some ways the favorite for the establishment support Mack will try to lock up, was slightly more conciliatory. LeMieux opened his statement by calling Mack “a friend” and his father “an outstanding US Senator” before lighting into the younger Mack.
?hile Congressman Mack has done some good things in Washington, he will have to explain to Floridians why he voted to raise his own pay several times, why he joined Bill Nelson in voting for a highway bill that contained 6,376 earmarks, including the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, and why he specifically rejected efforts to eliminate wasteful earmarks like an aquarium in Connecticut and tourism funding in Kentucky,” LeMieux said.
Rivals were also likely to point to a statement Mack’s office issued last year, when he said the Arizona immigration law cheered by many conservatives “is reminiscent of a time during World War II when the Gestapo in Germany stopped people on the street and asked for their papers without probable cause.”
A late March survey of GOP voters by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in North Carolina that regularly polls Florida, found Mack leading the race with 28 percent to 14 percent for LeMieux and 4 percent for Adam Hasner. The poll also included state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who drew 14 percent but has since dropped out of the race, and didn’t have McCalister or former steakhouse executive Craig Miller.
The poll showed Mack, LeMieux and Hasner all losing to Nelson by double digits, though Mack was behind by the smallest margin.