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Insiders predict Connie Mack would be GOP nominee, if no one new enters

When we started to conduct another Florida Insider Poll on Monday to take stock of the U.S. Senate race, we failed to anticipate that news would overtake us. The vast majority of the nearly 100 participants responded to the survey before Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced that he is seriously looking at jumping into the Republican primary — a development that obviously could shake up the race dramatically.

Still, the Tampa Bay Times survey of Florida's savviest politicos — fundraisers, lobbyists, campaign consultants and political scientists — had some striking results. Even without Atwater's name in the mix of possible contenders, a slight majority — 52 percent — said it's not too late for another candidate to get in the race and mount a credible campaign.

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack was the overwhelming favorite of the 95 Insiders participating, with nearly 80 percent predicting he would win the nomination over George LeMieux and Mike McCalister. Fifty-one percent said Mack would be the strongest general election candidate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, 44 percent said LeMieux and one person said McCalister.

Mack got a boost Tuesday with an endorsement from the American Conservative Union.

Still, more than three out of four Insiders — including nearly two-thirds of the Republicans — expect Nelson to win re-election. But that doesn't mean the national GOP will write off the seat. Sixty-three percent of the Insiders expect the national party will invest significantly in the Senate race.

Will Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate in November? Our Insiders were divided with 52 percent saying no.

This week's Insiders included 37 Democrats, 50 Republicans and eight independents. For a complete list, go to blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.

Reid dismisses Rubio idea

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., says the Dream Act alternative Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is working on is a nonstarter because it does not create a path to citizenship.

"The Dream Act is there for a purpose: to give you men and women who came here when they were just kids an opportunity to join the military or to go to school," the Senate majority leader said when asked about the proposal during a news conference Tuesday. "I am not going to agree to anything that is short of allowing these young men and women to become citizens after they make the sacrifices that they do."

Rubio's proposal, still unreleased, would give legal status to college students and members of the military but would not provide a new way to citizenship, which many Republicans consider "amnesty."

Obama's lead over Romney

A new PPP poll in Florida shows President Barack Obama starts the general election with a five-point advantage over Mitt Romney in Florida, 50-45. "This is the biggest lead Obama's had in Florida over the course of five polls PPP's done in the state since the beginning of 2011," a news release states.

RNC to focus on Hispanic vote

The RNC said Monday will target six states, including Florida, for an aggressive outreach to Hispanic voters, a growing force that is favoring Democrats nationally.

"We are going to engage Hispanics and Latinos like we've never done before," RNC chairman Reince Priebus said on a call.

He promised a "very detailed, concerted, technical effort," and stressed it would be based on the economy. "Latinos have been bearing the brunt of the Obama economy," he said, referring to higher unemployment than the non-Hispanic white population.

State directors will work in Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada. The Florida director is Pablo Pantoja, who was born in Puerto Rico, attended Florida State and worked as a field director in the 2010 midterm elections.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.

Insiders predict Connie Mack would be GOP nominee, if no one new enters 04/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 7:41pm]

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