The second-hottest Republican contest for anything in Florida, after the presidential primary in late January, is the nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. And while the GOP Senate primary is eight months away, it is now as hard-fought and intense as the presidential primary only one month from now.
About two months ago, five-term Rep. Connie Mack announced for the Senate primary, reversing an announcement he had made earlier this year declining a Senate race to instead seek reelection to the House. At this point, Mack is considered the instant front-runner. His namesake father was the Sunshine State’s much-loved senator from 1988 to 2000, whose charisma and graciousness were invaluable companions to a record as conservative as that of the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.). A dozen years after Mack retired, grassroots activists in the state GOP speak warmly of him as “Senator Mack” or simply “the Senator.”
So is Mack the Younger the political heir to Mack the Elder? He certainly has the name and a voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92.80%) similar to his father’s. Mack’s competition, of course, has other ideas.
“I don’t have a famous last name, but I also don’t believe a Senate seat can be inherited,” said Adam Hasner, former majority leader of the state House of Representatives and Mack’s leading primary opponent. During a recent visit to HUMAN EVENTS, Hasner made it clear he would attempt to mobilize the conservative grass roots and Tea Partiers who handsomely delivered the nomination and election to Sen. Marco Rubio last year.
Moreover, Hasner also made it clear to us he would focus intense fire on Mack. In his words, “He has secured billions of dollars in earmarks, and he publicly criticized the Arizona [anti-illegal immigration] law. Those are two issues in which we have sharp disagreement.
“And I am not the candidate of the Washington establishment—he is,” added Hasner, noting that his record in Tallahassee “was with Marco Rubio, when I was majority leader and he was speaker, 98% of the time.” As evidence of his strength at the grassroots level, Hasner cited his triumph in straw polls at the state Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, and more recently, in the Pasco County GOP straw vote.
There are three other major contenders in the Senate primary, including George LeMieux, longtime right-hand man to former Gov. Charles Crist (who bolted the GOP to run for the Senate against Rubio as an independent) who was appointed to fill a year in the Senate after a vacancy occurred last year. LeMieux’s association with Crist, however, is considered a fatal wound among primary voters.
For now at least, the Senate primary appears to be between Adam Hasner and Connie Mack—and that contest will surely be watched as eagerly as the Republican primary between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich coming up even sooner.