BRANDON — Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney and Bill Nelson vs. Connie Mack IV may be different races, but Mack is determined to make them inextricably entwined.
"Every time Barack Obama needed a friend in the United States Senate he turned to his friend Bill Nelson,'' Mack told more than 150 people at a Hillsborough County Republican Party meeting Tuesday night after a day campaigning in Pasco County.
Mack, a congressman from Fort Myers and son of the former Florida senator with the same name, faces an incumbent Democrat who in prior elections has consistently peeled away sizable chunks of Republican voters in Florida. So Mack, 44, is determined to link Nelson, 69, to the president loathed by many Republicans
"Look, if Mitt Romney wins, we win. If I win, he wins,'' Mack said of Romney, whom he endorsed while many grass roots Republicans were still backing other GOP presidential contenders. "We're going to be tied in this election, just like Obama and Nelson are tied."
In Mack, Nelson faces one of the toughest challengers he's had in years. A June 9-11 Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll found Nelson leading Mack 47 percent to 42 percent among likely Florida voters.
Still, Mack has faced some bumps, from questions about missing House votes to sending congressional mail funded by taxpayers earlier this year to voters far outside his district.
On Tuesday, his campaign faced questions about why his Senate campaign charged nearly $470 for clothing at a Brooks Brothers in Jacksonville, federal records show, an apparent violation of law.
Records show identical charges of $234 were made on April 12 and May 16 and the campaign listed it as "clothing." Federal law prohibits the use of campaign funds on items including "clothing, other than slogan type items."
Mack declined to comment Tuesday night about the charges. But his spokesman, David James, told the Times, "The Brooks Brothers charges were mistaken, inappropriate charges made by travel staff. All charges have been reversed in the form of a reimbursement by staff which will show up in the next report."
He added: "Nothing more here than a staffer taking a liberty instead of finding a dry cleaner. Aren't you going to ask about taxes, Obamacare or job creation?"
Mack made a four-stop trip in Pasco. He continued his strategy of ignoring the upcoming GOP primary and trying to link Nelson with President Obama.
Mack still faces competition for the GOP nomination from former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon of Melbourne and retired Army Col. Mike McAllister of Plant City, though he leads overwhelmingly in recent polls.
Times Staff Writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.
Correction: Mack has faced questions about missing House votes. An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to a different chamber.