Friday, August 03, 2012

Florida U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Florida U.S. Senate

August 3, 2012
95 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

The Sunshine State will be at the center of the political universe this campaign, with Florida being both a Presidential battleground state and with what will be an extremely close race for the Senate that could ultimately decide control of that body. In talking about the Senate contest, I believe it is an absolute tossup, and as an ardent Republican I hope to be wrong on this hunch, but as of today, I would have to give the slightest of edges to incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, as he seeks his third term.

At some points in his Senate career, Nelson, who is also a former astronaut was seen as a potential national leader in the Democrat Party and somebody who was mentioned as a Vice Presidential hopeful in a couple of election cycles. In recent years though, Nelson's influence and impact has seemed to wane on Capitol Hill and back at home, the perception of him as a bland politician, without much in the way of passionate defenders have taken a toll as well. Nelson's job performance numbers are certainly troubling for an incumbent seeking reelection and a strong campaign might very well end his political career.

Nelson's Republican opponent is basically known, but the primary will still need to be held in less than two weeks and the GOP field is somewhat crowded. While Congressman Connie Mack IV is almost certain to win a large victory in August, the path to the nomination was far more complicated.

It was a bit of a surprise when Mack entered the race last November, after other candidates had been running for months. Mike McAlister, a retired Army Officer had been in the race, where he still remains and had garnered some conservative grassroots support. The enterance of the well-funded and widely known name of Connie Mack though ultimately had the effect of eventually driving the two previous GOP frontrunners from the field from the race. The last of whom to drop out in June, after having clashed bitterly with Mack across the state before that was George LeMieux, who had been seeking a return to the Senate, after having briefly served as an interim placeholder Senator during the final months of the 2010 cycle. LeMieux had been appointed to the post by his former boss, Charlie Crist, when Crist was still the Republican Governor of the state and was seeking his party's Senate nomination. LeMieux was under at least an implicit agreement to not run for a full term at that time, and had to watch as the man who appointed him, left the GOP, and instead lost the general election as an Independent. Crist, who is now a pariah in the Republican Party, and who is expected to seek office again one day as a Democrat, recently endorsed Nelson for reelection.

After the 2010 elections, LeMieux decided he wanted to go back to Washington, but was harmed, (though perhaps through no fault of his own) by the Crist connections. When Mack first got into the race, LeMieux attempted to run to his right, but Mack had many other advantages and appeared to easily the most electable GOP candidate to take on Nelson. LeMieux was obviously none too thrilled to have to end his campaign, especially after such a negative few months sparring with Mack, but stated the need for the party to unite behind him in the name of victory.

At about the same time, another suprise GOP candidate made a late entry into the race, but former Congressman Dave Weldon, a staunch conservative, has seemingly not made much of an impact on the primary race and it is possible that he will finish in third behind Mack and McAllister.

Congressman Mack, who was came to Washington nearly 12 years ago at the age of 33 has a well known name in the state. That is due both to the original Connie Mack (real name Mcgillicudy), the candidate's great-grandfather who was a Hall of Fame baseball manager , and by his father Connie Mack III who served nearly 20 years in Congress, including two terms as a popular U.S. Senator from Florida. Mack also has a political pedigree going back to some other relatives as well.

Mack is a telegenic and articulate candidate, who has twice now gotten on board early with Mitt Romney's Presidential campaigns, and appeared tirelessly across the state for him, even as he faced his own primary race later in the year, before the important Florida Presidential primary that Romney eventually won. That loyalty was soon rewarded as the presumptive Republican nominee made a rare primary endorsement in a Senate race in favor of Mack.

There are also aspects of Mack's life that have caused him some political headaches before and have been brought up again during the course of this campaign. Growing up with a famous name in both sports and Florida politics was perhaps a bit of a double edged sword for him as a young man, as there were some instances of his having gotten into bar fights and whatnot as a young man, including once with then Atlanta Braves baseball player Ron Gant. While Mack has likely matured since those days, there were also issues surrounding his divorce several years back and subsequent remarriage to GOP Congressional colleague Mary Bono Mack (a moderate who took over the House seat of her famous late husband Sonny) of California, who also divorced her second husband at about the same time. If both are elected this November, I am pretty sure that the Macks would be the first ever married couple to serve together in different Houses of Congress.

While Connie Mack is more conservative than his wife on many social issues, he is not seen as an uncomprosing type who might not fit the ideological mold of a competitive state like Florida. Many in the state party may not be crazy about his inevitable nomination, but it is likely that he will receive unified political support in the fall, as that will be necessary to defeat Nelson.

Handicapping this race at the present is difficult because the polls are all over the place. A few months back, when Mack was being hammered by LeMieux in the primary race, Nelson surged ahead by several points. Over the past month, several general election polls have been released, and they have shown everything from Nelson being ahead by seven points to Mack leading the incumbent by nine points. Many of the polls have shown the race about dead even, which is probably where things are there, as people are left to argue about the internal makeup of those being polled and how the numbers jibe with what the survey also says on the Presidential race.

In a large state like Florida, with multiple media markets, this competitive contest will probably be decided on the airwaves, as both candidates, parties, and outside interests will be running a plethora of ads. Face to face debates may also prove to be key. While both currently serve in Washington, Mack will use the "change" argument against Nelson, while the Democrat will use his party's usual playbook of trying to describe Mack as being "risky" for the state's minority and elderly populations. If the freshman Cuban-American Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, were to become Mitt Romney's running-mate, his presence on a national ticket could wind up significantly impacting this race, likely to the benefit of Mack. Republicans have won almost all statewide races in Florida in recent years, and swept everything in the wave election of 2010, but Democrats will claim that the incumbent Governor is quite unpopular right now and that they are more than capable of reelecting an incumbent.

As I said in the beginning, I hope to be wrong, and I may very well wind up changing my ranking (perhaps more than once) before all is said and done, but while Mack is a strong candidate, he is not a perfect candidate, and sometime's a challenger needs to be nearly perfect in order to defeat a veteran incumbent, who is not politically toxic, as Nelson does not quite seem to be. None of this is to say that Mack is not completely capable of running an extremely strong race and pulling it off at the end.

I think Florida will have a fair amount of ticket splitters and at this point, I think both Mitt Romney and Bill Nelson are probably ahead there.

Mack campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 4 D, 1 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 34 D, 38 R