Senate race: contest between the self-proclaimed 'Florida moderate' and 'mainstream conservative'
Rick Johnson, a financial advisor from Shalimar is worried.
“I know it’s a tough time in Washington, but another four years of deadlock is not going to move this country forward,’’ he told U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV at a brief campaign stop last month in the military stronghold of Walton County in the Panhandle. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Mack didn’t hesitate with the answer. “We’re going to get this country back and that means more jobs, more security and more freedom,’ he said. “I appreciate you coming out.”
It doesn’t get more complicated than that for Mack, 45, a nine-year Republican congressman from Fort Myers who is challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate. Mack profile here.
On a clear October morning, Florida’s senior senator stood on the red clay soil near his grandfather’s grave and pointed to the cow pasture behind him.
“I remember my bare feet on that cold earth that had been turned up by the big plow,’’ he told friends and relatives at the church cemetery halfway between Pensacola and Tallahassee. “These are the pioneers that saw technology change our way of life.”
Four hours later, Nelson was in Tallahassee, pointing again — this time at the world’s largest magnet housed at the National Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University.
“We are going to Mars,’’ he told the scientists. “We need to create a magnetic field around our astronauts so if there is a solar explosion, they won’t get fried. Can you do that?”
“Yes,’’ answered Greg Boebinger, the lab director. “It’s conceivable.”
It wasn’t much of a campaign day for Nelson in this low-key re-election campaign, but it was a lot like his political career: book-ended by a pilgrimage to his roots and an homage to Florida’s technological future.
After nearly 40 years in public office, Nelson has bridged the generations and the technological divide. He has watched its cow pastures transformed in the wake of the state’s population boom. He was a civilian crew member of the 1986 space shuttle Columbia and is now the lone Democrat to hold statewide office in the nation’s largest swing state. His centrist positions on fiscal and social issues, and his low-key demeanor have helped him remain in office even as political power in Florida has shifted from Democrat to Republican. He is arguably the last of Florida’s old-style Southern Democrats.
But if Republicans have their way, the state’s longest-serving Democrat will be ousted this year. Nelson profile here.