Tag Archives: Mel Martinez

Florida Senate Race Changes Shape

Things are heating up in the Florida Senate challenge to incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D). Former interim Sen. George LeMieux dropped out of the Republican race earlier in the week and, in a statement released early Wednesday, indicated that he believed the national Republican Party had thrown its support behind Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14).

Former governor Charlie Crist (R-I) appointed LeMieux to the Senate in 2009 to fulfill the unexpired term of Sen. Mel Martinez (R) after his abrupt resignation. Crist went on to run for the seat in 2010 without party affiliation and lost to freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R).

The developments again reveal the power political establishment backing has over candidates, even those with relatively high familiarity with voters. The other late breaking development here, and the two are related, is the emergence of former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL-15), who just recently and surprisingly indicated that he is entering the Senate race. While Mack is still heavily favored over Weldon, the campaign is just now reaching the cusp of the stretch drive for the Aug. 14 primary when many things change. Aside from Weldon, retired Army Col. Mike McCalister is also in the Republican race.

In a poll released yesterday, Quinnipac University found that Sen. Nelson has a slight 43-39 percent edge over Rep. Mack, but the young Republican congressman appears to be the prohibitive favorite for his party nomination. The poll, conducted June 12-18, prior to LeMieux’s departure, surveyed 1,697 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points. Mack polled the strongest among the GOP contenders, with the others trailing Nelson in double digits: 47-32 percent (LeMieux); 45-34 percent (McCalister); and 47-31 percent (Weldon).

Nelson’s slight lead over Mack is a net five point increase for the senator compared to the virtual tie Quinnipiac found in their May 24 poll (Mack leading 42-41 percent).

In the Republican primary, the Q-Poll shows Mack posting 41 percent, LeMieux in second with 8 percent, and McCalister following with 5 percent, while the late arriving Weldon registered only 3 percent among the 698 self-identified Republicans tested.

Though Mack and Nelson are running close in both private and public polling, it is Nelson’s major financial war chest that has most GOP operatives concerned. The senator has compiled an almost $8 million financial edge over his competitors and even with so many hot races taking place in Florida this cycle, he will still have the wherewithal to position himself strongly in the most expensive of television markets. Now with LeMieux out of the primary and Mack now clearly the GOP favorite, some Republican resources that otherwise would have gone towards winning the mid-August election can now be saved for the general.

The senator, who won his 2006 re-election with 60.3 percent of the vote, faces new economic challenges in the Sunshine state and, while he remains as the favorite in the race, the contest will definitely come down to the wire. This is a bona-fide contest with national implications.

Florida’s Mack Won’t Run for Senate

Late last week a story surfaced in Politico that Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) would today officially announce a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) for the seat Nelson has held since 2001. Such is not the case.

Understanding that the reporter never discussed Mack’s intentions personally with the congressman, but rather quoted an ‘anonymous source close to the Mack campaign,’ it was written that an announcement of candidacy would be imminently forthcoming. Mr. Mack corrected the story retorting that he would indeed make a statement but only to detail his reasons for not running statewide. He says family concerns and wanting to continue his service in the House influenced the decision not to engage Nelson. Rep. Mack, 43, first won his House seat in 2004 and will seek re-election next year.

This leaves state Senate President Mike Haridopolos as the only significant Republican currently in the race against Nelson. The veteran Democratic senator, commonly viewed to be at least marginally vulnerable in the next election, has confirmed that he will seek a third term. Haridopolos has been active on the fundraising trail and promises to report more than seven figures in receipts on his 2011 first quarter Federal Election Commission disclosure report due April 15. Nelson had over $3 million cash-on-hand according to his year-end 2010 filing.

Mack was viewed as having very strong potential as a statewide candidate, polling atop all preliminary Florida Senate Republican primary surveys. This is likely because of his name familiarity with voters. His father, Connie Mack III, served in the Senate for the 12 years prior to Nelson and spent three terms in the House. Connie Mack, Sr., who shortened his name from Cornelius McGillicuddy, is a legendary Hall of Fame baseball owner and manager.

Without Rep. Mack on the statewide ballot, the Republicans will likely be looking for a candidate stronger than Haridopolos to wage a potentially winning campaign against Nelson. In his two Senate general election victories (2000 and 2006), Mr. Nelson posted winning totals of 51 and 60 percent, defeating then-Rep. and future Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and then-Rep. and former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, respectively. Nelson spent six terms in the House, spanning 1979-1991. He was twice elected as Florida treasurer, insurance commissioner & fire marshal (1994; 1998).

Other potential Republican candidates include former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who had said repeatedly during his 18-month stint in the Senate, filling the unexpired term of Mel Martinez (R), that he planned to challenge Nelson in 2012 but seemed to back away from those intentions upon leaving office. Mack’s decision not to enter the race could now lead to LeMieux becoming a candidate. The ex-majority leader of the Florida State House, Adam Hasner, is also a likely Senatorial contender.

It’s also possible that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13) may reconsider previous statements saying he was unlikely to run statewide in 2012. The congressman mused recently that being appointed as a member of the important House Ways & Means Committee was quelling his desire to run for Senate, but Mack’s decision could become an impetus for him to re-focus on a battle against the 68-year-old Nelson.

The Florida seat figures prominently in any Republican scenario to gain control of the Senate next year. Down 47-53, the GOP needs a minimum net conversion of four seats to wrest away the Democratic majority. Only having to defend 10 of the 33 in-cycle seats, with three that are open (Arizona-Kyl; Nevada-Ensign; Texas-Hutchison), the Republicans are in strong position to turn several Democratic states, such as the open seats in North Dakota (Conrad) and Virginia (Webb). Democrats are heavy favorites to hold their incumbent retirement seats in Connecticut (Lieberman-I), Hawaii (Akaka), and New Mexico (Bingaman), though the latter two could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

In terms of incumbent Democratic vulnerabilities, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson tops the list and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Montana’s Jon Tester will also face toss-up re-election challenges. Going hard after Bill Nelson certainly expands the GOP political playing field but, without Mack as a candidate, the Republican task of converting the Sunshine State clearly becomes more difficult.
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