On Friday, Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) again reversed his political course and declared his candidacy for US Senate. Back in March, when he scheduled a news conference that even his own aides were saying was a Senatorial announcement address, the 44-year-old, four-term congressman abruptly changed his mind and instead said that he would not run statewide.
Late last week, Rep. Mack made another 180-degree pirouette and officially entered the race to challenge two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D). With polls remaining stagnant for the better part of a year – Nelson leading either former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner by consistent 13-15 point margins (Nelson is almost always in the 47-49 percent range while the Republicans scored 33-35 percent), Mack believes he still has the opportunity to close that margin and put the state in play for the GOP.
He might be right, but it won’t happen overnight. Because of his father, Sen. Connie Mack III who held the seat for two terms before Nelson won in 2000, the Fort Myers congressman has substantial statewide name ID. Sen. Mack was originally elected in a very close 1988 election, and was easily re-elected in 1994. He retired with high job-approval ratings and appeared to be a cinch to win a third term had he so desired.
So, despite being behind both LeMieux and Hasner in campaign resources (LeMieux has over $1 million cash-on-hand according to the Sept. 30, 2011 campaign disclosure filing, while Hasner has $785,000; Mack starts the race with $347,000 in his congressional account), Mack’s name ID will very likely put him atop the Republican primary polls when they are next released. In the last Quinnipiac University poll of Florida Republicans (released Sept. 22nd), both LeMieux and Hasner were only in the teens or single-digits (LeMieux leading his rival 17-5 percent, with businessman and college professor Mike McAllister registering a surprising 11 percent).
Though he has created a rocky political road for himself in getting into the Senate race, his decision may prove to be the right move.
It is clear that several major factors cut against the senator. First, there’s the overall political climate to consider, in which voters may have the highest anti-incumbent fever ever. The right track/wrong track directional polling questions designed to detect a respondent’s optimistic or pessimistic view of the country’s future are reaching all-time negative lows, as we covered in our Friday edition of the PRIsm Political Update. Nationally, the wrong track answer tops 80%. Among Republicans, that score, in some places, is incredibly high – up into the mid- to high-90s.
Secondly, with President Obama’s approval ratings trending upside down nationally and in Florida, and the poor economy unlikely to improve substantially before the next election, the Democrats’ ability to carry the state is questionable. In order to defeat the President, the eventual Republican nominee will have to carry Florida, and that could bring a strong US Senate candidate over the finish line, too.
Third, while Sen. Nelson’s ratings are good, in fact strong when compared to many other senators standing for re-election, they are not stellar, and plenty of time remains to turn the race.
Therefore, Rep. Mack’s decision to launch his candidacy, even after repeatedly changing his mind, is understandable. Despite losing seven months of fundraising and campaigning, he does have a chance to win the GOP nomination and defeat Nelson. It is clear that Rep. Mack is betting on the long-term now, but his gamble might pay off.