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Mack for U.S. Senate

Florida Republican Connie Mack's 1988 U.S. Senate campaign was based on the most superficial kind of right-wing sloganeering. "Hey, Buddy, you're a liberal," was the mantra of Mack's successful campaign against Democrat Buddy MacKay.

Six years later, Mack has built a record that is true to his conservative bent, and he still falls back on his old cliches too often. But he has allowed himself just enough flashes of independent thought to take him a dimension beyond the "Cardboard Connie" caricature that fit him so well in 1988.

Mack articulated a humane policy on Haitian refugees back when the Clinton administration was still making Haitian boat people the victims of an indefensible double standard. He refused to join the effort of other right-wing Republicans in Congress to distort the record of Rosemary Barkett, the Florida Supreme Court justice whose nomination to the federal bench ultimately was confirmed by the Senate. He stood up to baseball's arrogant owners long before the current strike made it trendy for members of Congress to do so.

These and a few other actions have been rare signs of life on the otherwise barren landscape of Mack's congressional record, but they offer some reason to hope that another six years in Washington would allow Mack to accelerate his learning curve.

While Mack's growth has been limited by his doctrinaire conservatism, his stature shoots up immediately whenever he is measured alongside his Democratic challenger, Hugh Rodham of Miami.

Florida's Democratic Party officials should be ashamed of their failure to give the state's voters a serious alternative to Mack's re-election. Rodham never even bothered to register to vote until two years ago, when he had a chance to cast a ballot for his brother-in-law, Bill Clinton, and his habitual political indifference is still painfully evident. His campaign has been crippled by his embarrassing lack of substance on issues that are crucial to Florida and the country.

Mack deserved a tougher campaign. More importantly, so did Florida voters. A prepared opponent would have done a better job of exposing Mack's indefensible opposition to serious health care reform, deficit reduction and campaign finance reform. As it is, Mack's doctrinaire positions have gone all but unchallenged.

The Times recommends Mack for re-election because there is no serious alternative. Six years from now, Floridians deserve a chance to vote for a much more substantial Mack or a much more substantial Democratic opponent.