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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Nelson-Mack U.S. Senate primer

Fear not, voters, if you're just now tuning in to Florida's U.S. Senate race.

PolitiFact Florida has been watching the budding matchup between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV for months. We've vetted many attacks you might have seen on TV — and if you haven't yet, you will.

Consider this a cheat-sheet of what to expect through Nov. 6.

Nelson, health care

Nelson voted for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, and Mack won't let voters forget it. Neither will big-spending outside groups determined to run Nelson out of office. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association have made repeated claims about the law and Nelson's connection to it in scary ads. Among them:

Nelson was the "deciding" vote. Certainly every vote counts in the Senate. But Nelson's vote was no more significant than other senators who voted in favor of the health care law. Plus, his vote lacked the drama of other senators with last-minute demands, such as Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. That claim is Mostly False.

The health care vote imposes the largest tax increase in history on the middle class. While it's true the health care law calls for the first significant tax increases since 1993, other presidents proposed and signed laws carrying taxes of near-equal weight, including Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B. Johnson signed larger tax hikes, and two World War II tax increases were significantly bigger as well. Not to mention most of the law's taxes target the wealthy and the health care industry. This claim is Pants on Fire!

We've also debunked claims that the law could cost "double what we were promised" (False), and "that 20 million people could lose their current coverage" (Mostly False).

Character attacks

Former Sen. George LeMieux threw everything he had at Mack before dropping out of the GOP primary in June, deriding him as a reckless "Half-Mack."

Among his claims: Mack took 71/2 years to get a bachelor's degree; he didn't live in Florida but in California with his wife, Rep. Mary Bono Mack; and he failed to pay child support.

Those claims fared poorly on our Truth-O-Meter (Mostly False, Mostly False and False, respectively), and Nelson's campaign has not reused them.

Nelson has recycled one LeMieux talking point, however, in his first attack ad — Mack's connection to the Hooters restaurant chain.

"Florida, meet Connie Mack IV. A promoter for Hooters with a history of bar room brawling, altercations and road rage," the ad says.

Mack left his job at a management company, which owned and operated several Hooters franchises, in 2000 for the Florida House. He never received a paycheck directly from Hooters, but "we never denied he worked on behalf of Hooters," spokesman David James told us at the time.

The rest of the ad's claim pretty accurately sums up incidents during Mack's 20s, as detailed by the Miami Herald this year. On the whole, we rate Nelson's statement Mostly True, deducting some accuracy points for implying he currently works as a Hooters promoter.

'Mediscare'

Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will only inflame the Medicare attacks we have already seen in the Mack-Nelson race.

We've heard the big-money groups say — over and over, for months — the health care law Nelson supported includes "$500 billion in cuts to Medicare to fund Obamacare."

We routinely rate that claim Mostly False. The health care law Nelson supported does not cut a dollar amount from the Medicare program's budget. Rather, the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program.

The savings largely reflect expected reductions of payouts to some private insurers and payment reductions to health care providers, not cuts in benefits.

Going forward, you're more likely to hear about $700 billion in "cuts," the result of nonpartisan analysts moving forward the 10-year time frame they studied. But that doesn't make the attack any more true.

Democrats, meanwhile, are attaching a similar attack to Republicans who support Ryan's controversial budget plan because it includes the same "cuts."

Mack voted for Ryan's budget resolution on April 15, 2011. He missed the most recent vote on the plan in March and has since offered mixed messages on his level of support for the plan.

Road to November

Both campaigns largely shrugged off our inquiries about what voters can expect between now and November.

"We don't really discuss strategy," said Nelson spokesman Paul Kincaid. "However, I can say that it's become abundantly clear in the past few days that there is a major difference between Sen. Nelson and Connie Mack on the issues, for instance Medicare and Social Security, and I think those issues will play a huge role in the campaign."

"You'll have to wait and see," Mack said at a recent event. "Why would I tell you?"

The setting for his comments: a small business. The topic: the overreach of "Obamacare" and "lockstep liberals."

We can take a hint.

PolitiFact Florida staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report. PolitiFact Florida is partnering with 10 News for the 2012 election. See video fact-checks at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

PolitiFact Florida: Nelson-Mack U.S. Senate primer 08/17/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 19, 2012 10:44pm]
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