Bill Nelson in trouble against Connie Mack - No matter what our Fla Insider Poll says
Hard to imagine, but maybe Washington's political pros have a better handle on Florida's sleepy U.S. Senate race than Florida's most experienced politicos.
Because the national Republican strategists and fundraisers determined to gain control of the U.S. Senate have already pumped in more than $9 million for TV ads hammering Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. They see Florida as a prime pick-off opportunity — and they are right.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV on Tuesday night officially became the Republican nominee after trouncing his little-known, cash-strapped primary challengers.
With Congress' approval ratings at record lows, and voters fed up with the status quo, it's a tough time to be a politician like Nelson, 69, who has been in public office since he was elected to the Legislature in 1972. He is a fifth-generation Floridian with a knack for performing better than most Democrats in conservative north Florida, but that may be tougher with the polarized electorate of 2012.
What's more, he must contend with new campaign finance laws that likely mean he will be out-spent.
"If you wanted to make a profile of the typical candidate who's been having problems in elections across the country, Bill would fit that profile," said Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union and former chairman of the Florida Republican party.
Still, the perception among Florida's political elites, the ones who know Nelson and Mack best, is that Nelson remains the overwhelming favorite.
In a Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll conducted this week with 117 of Florida's savviest political minds, more than 8 in 10 predicted Nelson beats Mack in November. Two-thirds of Republicans surveyed picked Nelson as the likely winner, 47 out of 48 Democrats predicted Nelson, and all seven registered independents predicted Nelson. Participants included political operatives, fundraisers, lobbyists and activists.
Those results probably say more about how Florida's political class sees Mack's campaign to date — tired sound bites about "lockstep liberal" Nelson, little grassroots enthusiasm, and knee-jerk attacks on the media — than it does about the actual political landscape.
This is a neck-and-neck race for a top prize in the country's biggest battleground state. Yet it's hard to find anyone especially interested in the race.
"It's because people don't particularly care for either candidate very much. I've heard that over and over," said Republican fundraiser Scott Peelen of Orlando, calling Nelson's vote for the federal health care law "reprehensible" and "unpatriotic" and describing Mack, 45, as coming across as "a kid ... with a reputation like Dennis the Menace."