The second-hottest Republican contest for anything in Florida (after the presidential primary in late January) is that for 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 seek re-election 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 1988-2000, his charisma and graciousness were invaluable companions to a record as conservative as that belonging to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.). A dozen years after Mack retired, grass-roots 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 his voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92.80%) is similar to his father’s.
But Mack is finding that the contest is not a slam-dunk and that at least one opponent is by no means rolling over for him. Adam Hasner, former majority leader of the state House of Representatives and Mack’s leading primary opponent, made it clear he would attempt to mobilize the conservative grass-roots and tea partiers who handsomely delivered the nomination and election to now-Sen. Marco Rubio last year.
There are differences between the two. During a recent visit to HUMAN EVNETS, Hasner pointed out to us his biggest disagreement with the congressman was over his securing numerous earmarks, and Mack’s sharp public criticism of the Arizona (anti-illegal immigration) law. Another major issue expected to emerge in the primary is that Mack has voted repeatedly for stem cell research.
As if to underscore his differences with Mack, Hasner noted that his record in Tallahassee “was with Marco Rubio, when I was majority leader and he was speaker, 98% of the time.” Hasner’s strength among grass-roots activists was demonstrated through his triumph in straw polls at the state Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year and, more recently, at 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 race appears to be one between Adam Hasner and Connie Mack—and that contest will surely be watched in Florida as much as the Republican primary between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich coming up soon.