But as the Southwest Florida congressman tried to rally support Thursday at the Republican National Convention, he faced a general-election campaign that poses a far-bigger challenge — while also offering the possibility of a win that could catapult him to national prominence, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
Mack is trying to unseat two-term Sen. Bill Nelson, the only Florida Democrat holding a statewide office. At the same time, a win by Mack could help Republicans capture control of the Senate, a prospect that he and supporters dangled to Florida convention delegates.
“If I win … Harry Reid will no longer control the agenda in the United States Senate,” Mack said, referring to the Democratic Senate majority leader, who is highly unpopular among Republicans.
But Nelson is attacking Mack, whose father, also named Connie, served in the Senate from 1989 to 2001. Nelson’s campaign, for example, points to missed congressional votes by Mack and a well-publicized bar fight between Mack and former major-league baseball player Ron Gant in 1992.
“Questionable work habits. A sense of entitlement. Connie Mack, he thinks the rules are different for him,” a Nelson ad says.
Mack fired back Thursday, describing Nelson as a career politician who has nothing to offer except a “smear campaign.”
“He’s doing everything he can to convince the people of Florida not to look at his record,” Mack said.
Mack, who was elected to Congress in 2004, easily beat three other candidates in the Aug. 14 primary, capturing 58.7 percent of the vote. He spoke to Florida’s convention delegates during a breakfast meeting Thursday and was preparing to address the full Republican convention Thursday night.
Carole Jean Jordan, a former state Republican chairwoman, said Mack has an advantage of name recognition with voters. His father was a popular figure in the GOP, and the candidate’s great-grandfather, also named Connie Mack, was a legendary baseball manager.
But Jordan said Mack also has to tell people who he is and differentiate himself from Nelson.
“Sen. Nelson’s been around for a long, long time, and it’s time for a breath of fresh air,” she said.
Nelson was first elected to the state Legislature in 1972 and later served in the U.S. House and as Florida insurance commissioner. In 2000, he beat Republican Bill McCollum to replace Mack’s father in the Senate. In 2006, Nelson trounced Katherine Harris in a closely watched race.
The candidates have taken different stances on issues. In one of the highest-profile examples, Nelson voted for the 2010 federal health care overhaul, commonly known as the Affordable Care Act, while Mack voted against it.
Mack tried Thursday to portray Nelson as taking liberal positions and lumped him together with President Obama. In describing the Democrats’ view of the role of government, he said Nelson and Obama believe in a “central planning idea.”
But the Nelson campaign defends the Democrat as a centrist.
“Bill’s always been a fiscal conservative and was one of the early advocates of a balanced federal budget,” Nelson’s campaign website says. “He’s supported spending cuts; a debt-reduction commission; a line-item budget veto for the president and major tax reform.”
Among Republicans, one of Mack’s most-compelling arguments might be the possibility that his election would help the GOP gain control of the Senate. Currently, the Senate has 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents who often side with Democrats.
“You cannot govern in Washington if Harry Reid is the majority leader, and you must defeat Bill Nelson as part of this process,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the Florida delegates Thursday.