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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

5 reasons Connie Mack's candidacy is no game changer



conniemack.jpgThe good news is that U.S. Rep. Connie Mack's surprise entry in the Republican U.S. Senate primary should make a lackadaisical race more exciting. But it's hard to see Mack's candidacy as a dramatic game changer. Whether the field of major candidate is four men or five, the race seems as wide open as ever. Why isn't Mack the overwhelming favorite?

1. Name recognition. Thanks to his dad, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III, the Fort Myers congressman clearly starts out with a name recognition advantage that would normally cost significant money on TV for any other candidate. A February Sachs/Mason-Dixon poll found Mack the strongest Republican against Democratic Bill Nelson, who led Mack 45 percent to 40 percent. That said, a Mack has not been on the statewide ballot for 15 years, which is ancient history in Florida. Mack The Younger represents one of the smallest media markets in Florida, which doesn't help him much.

2. Money. Mack has never  been known as a champion money-raiser, though he certainly has his father's network to rely on. He's getting in the race late with less than $350,000 in his House account, about one third of what George LeMieux has and about half of what Adam Hasner has (which doesn't include some big outside groups that could spend heavily for Hasner).

3. Immigration. Mack didn't just disagree with Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law, he excoriated it as "Gestapo"-like and un-American. Ask Bill McCollum or Rick Perry what can happen to a Republican campaign when it's depicted as soft on immigration. Likewise, Mack will have to explain to primary voters his support for embryonic stem cell research.

4. Grass roots. There's plenty of good will for Connie Mack III among longtime Republican activists, but Mack The Younger has hardly been a regular on the Lincoln Day and Reagan Day rubber chicken circuit. Despite the name, he's not especially well known among most grass roots activists who in recent years have seen tons of Adam Hasner and, more recently, LeMieux.

5. Baggage. Welcome to the Major Leagues, Connie Mack. Don't think for a second that the hardball campaigns of Hasner and LeMieux won't do everything they can to raise questions about whether you've spent much time in your district as a congressman; about your wife, California congresswoman Mary Bono Mack's moderate reputation;  about your wilder younger days that included a bar fight with then- Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant (an an unsuccessful $1-million lawsuit by Mack); about the messy divorce you set in motion when when your kids were just six and three.

Connie Mack IV very well may wind up the Republican nominee, and it's likely the next few polls even show him to be the front runner. But he's risking a safe congressional seat for a tough statewide race where he will be challenged like never before. A strong case could be made that Mack would be the toughest general election candidate of the bunch, but unfortunately for him he has to get through a primary first.

[Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011 10:56am]


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