Apparently Connie Mack's entrance into the Florida GOP Senate race IS a game-changer



Connie Mack IV
  • Connie Mack IV
For awhile now it's been apparent that none of the four major GOP candidates for U.S. Senate in Florida have struck a wide chord with the base, which is why a never elected candidate like retired Colonel Mike McCalister has led in some of the polls in the early going.

Such dire pickings has led some analysts to speculate that a Tom Lee or Rick Baker might get into the race, so lackluster were the pickins' when Democrat Bill Nelson still can't get over 50 percent in his own approval ratings.

Fort Myers area Congressman Connie Mack IV announced earlier this year that he would run for higher office, but seeing the obvious - that there was a void in the race - his advisers announced two weeks ago that he would be getting back into it.

That entrance has changed the race dramatically, based on a new Quinnipiac poll released Friday morning, that shows Mack - in the words of John McCain circa 2000- beating the rest of the field like a drum, as he has taken a 23 percentage point lead over his next closest rival, former U.S. Senator George LeMieux.

The rankings have Mack at 32 percent, LeMieux at 9 percent, McCalister at 6 percent, and Adam Hasner and Craig Miller at a desultory 2 percent.

We don't want to pick on the esteemed St. Pete Times political editor, Adam C. Smith, who in fact we praised yesterday for his story interviewing Herman Cain supporters in Florida, but well, nobody gets them all right.

In a post two weeks ago, Smith wrote "5 reasons Connie Mack's candidacy is no game changer." Smith did write that "it's likely the next few polls even show him to be the front runner," but promises that it would be a rocky road to the nomination, which it very well could be.

But beginning with a 23 point lead has to change the equation somewhat, particularly when it comes to fund-raising. If state wide Republicans who have been holding back now see a path to knocking out Bill Nelson, surely the money will flow to his campaign (the poll shows overall the two to be in a statistical tie, with Nelson up 42-40).

As everybody wrote about when Mack announced, the name recognition factor is huge, though some of those analysts wrote that it's been ages (well, 16 years) since Mack's father, Connie Mack the 3rd, was on a state-wide ballot, and thus perhaps it might be overrated to count on the name factor.

But having the exact same name as a former Florida U.S. Senator has to carry a lot of weight. It's always been my contention that the reason George W. Bush became the GOP nominee for President in 2000 wasn't just because he had Karl Rove and most of the Republican establishment backing his candidacy; it's that in late 1998, when the first polls started looking at 2000, Bush immediately jumped to the top, over Dan Quayle, John McCain, and the others who were looking at running for high office two years later. Bush became the establishment candidate strictly because of his name - or do you really believe that there were that many people following what he had done in Texas after just one term in office? (Bush was initially elected in 1994 and re-elected in 1998. Jeb Bush lost here in Florida in 1994 before winning office in 1998. As folklore has it, Jeb was always going to be the next Bush to run for president. But W. got the head start when he won in '94).

All of Smith's other contentions in that post are still right-on: Mack's stance on illegal immigration would seemingly make him an outcast in his own party. Forget all of Rick Perry's other mishaps - many analysts believe his refusal to trash Mexicans when talking about illegal immigration doomed his candidacy back in September - forget the putrid debate performances.

But at least the rhetoric is going to get more intense than it has been to date, which have revolved around amusing press releases between the LeMieux and Hasner camps. And we'll see how strong the Tea Party is during this race as well. But then again, if that group's main focus is about cutting down the deficit, Mack should be their man. His "Penny Plan" , H.R. 1848, would cut one penny out of every dollar actually spent by the federal government from year to year for the next six years, from FY 2012-FY 2017, and promises to cut the accumulated budget deficits by an estimated $7.5 trillion over 10 years — that's pretty radical.

That should also hearten Tea Party types who thought their only choice was Adam Hasner or Mike McCalister.

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