Two weeks after it became official, the surprise news from Florida that four-term Rep. Connie Mack has reversed an earlier decision, and will run for the Republican Senate nomination in 2012 after all, has left political observers from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C., breathless. Earlier this year, with polls showing Mack the runaway favorite for nomination against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, the namesake son of Florida’s much-loved former senator (1994 to 2000) announced that he would stay in the House rather than run for the Senate.
Now Mack has reversed himself and will face a primary field that includes former State House Majority Leader and conservative favorite Adam Hasner, former Sen. George LeMieux (once the closest ally of former Republican Gov.-turned-independent Charles Crist), retired National Guard Col. Mike McCallister, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House President Craig Miller.
It is inarguable that Mack’s name and the fondness Sunshine State GOPers have for his father will be an asset to him in the primary next year. It is also true that Mack will have some stumbling blocks to overcome. Although he has compiled a thoroughly conservative record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92.8%), Mack has said some unkind things about tough anti-illegal immigration laws such as the one enacted in Arizona. In a Republican nomination fight, this could come back to bite him, much as Texas Gov. Rick Perry is finding as he seeks the Republican nomination for President.
In addition, Mack has never quite nailed down the Republican base in his own 14th District, where his father was a U.S. representative from 1982 to 1988. The younger Mack had served one term in the Florida House from Fort Lauderdale before moving into the 14th and running in ’04, when then-Rep. and fellow Republican Porter Goss stepped down. In a four-candidate primary, Mack raised $1.4 million and narrowly (36% to 32%) outpolled State Rep. Carole Green, who had the backing of Goss’ wife, Mariel, and some of the Goss children. (Goss himself, who had been named to be CIA director by then-President George W. Bush, remained officially neutral in the race, but after the primary, made it quite clear to HUMAN EVENTS that he resented Mack running in a district in which he had not lived since he was a teenager.)
“The bad blood between Porter and his family and Connie has never settled,” according to one GOP activist from Lee County, which cast the most Republican votes in the 14th District. “There’s no love lost there.”
Sure enough, within days of Mack’s change of mind on a Senate race, the first candidate to declare for the Republican nomination for his now-open House seat was Chauncey Goss, son of the former congressman. More than a few Lee County GOPers believe that young Goss, a former Office of Management and Budget official and deputy staff director for the House Budget Committee under Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.), was seriously exploring a House race before Mack opted to run for the Senate.
Other possible Republican House hopefuls range from State Rep. Gary Audobon, chairman of the House Rules Committee and a strong conservative, to former State Rep. Burt Saunders, who is considered more moderate. The race is quite uncertain at this point, given that the legislature is not likely to begin the redistricting process until after January.