Will Connie Mack Smack Bill Nelson in Florida?

Will Connie Mack Smack Bill Nelson in Florida?

By Sean Trende - November 11, 2011

The conventional wisdom surrounding the 2012 Florida Senate race was that Bill Nelson was set to become the luckiest man in Congress’ upper chamber. In 2000 and 2006, he had the benefit of running in good years for Senate Democrats, and avoiding strong opponents.

This time, Nelson is running in a year that doesn’t look to be particularly good for Senate Democrats. Once again, however, he has not drawn particularly strong opponents. Jeb Bush -- who led Nelson by significant margins in the polls -- took a pass on the race, as did several other strong potential candidates. The three that were left were not formidable. Perhaps his strongest opponent was state Senate leader Mike Haridopolos. But he admitted ethical wrongdoing with regard to his financial disclosures late last year. By the time Haridopolos ended his Senate bid this past summer, he trailed Nelson by an 18-point margin.

That left former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, and former Sen. George LeMieux (who served out the last 18 months or so of Mel Martinez’s term). Both have the disadvantage of being out of office. Hasner is fairly low-profile, while LeMieux carries the baggage of having been appointed by unpopular former Gov. Charlie Crist. Hasner trails Nelson by 16.6 percent in the RCP Average, while LeMieux trails by 16.3 points. The bright side for Republicans is that Nelson was under 50 percent against fairly unknown opponents, but that’s a pretty dim bright side.

This dynamic changed on Oct. 26, when Cornelius McGillicuddy IV, better known as Rep. Connie Mack IV, reconsidered his decision to forgo this race. Mack brings a few advantages that the other entrants don’t possess. First, he is a current officeholder. Second, he’s a federal officeholder. Combined, these give him much better fundraising opportunities than Hasner or LeMieux enjoy. Most importantly, however, Mack shares a name with his father: popular former Sen. Connie Mack, who held the seat before Nelson.

This advantage shows up in head-to-head matchups. Mack has always trailed Nelson. But unlike Hasner and LeMieux, he has trailed by small margins. The most recent Quinnipiac poll, which last showed Nelson with leads of more than 20 points against Hasner and LeMieux, shows Mack trailing the incumbent by just two points, 42 percent to 40 percent. The poll is of registered voters, so it is probable that Mack is leading among the actual electorate (e.g., likely voters).

This race was always likely to tighten as Hasner or LeMieux gained in name recognition, and the future always held a tough race for Bill Nelson. But with Mack’s entry into the race, the future appears to be now. 

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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