The wait is finally over - or is it?
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, has scheduled a “major announcement” for 10 a.m. today on the steps of the historic Lee County Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers regarding the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bill Nelson.
The courthouse is a frequent launching pad for Southwest Florida political campaigns, but a statement from Mack’s office Thursday only hinted at Mack’s plans.
“U.S. Representative Connie Mack will make a major announcement regarding the 2012 race for the United States Senate in Florida against liberal incumbent Senator Bill Nelson,” the statement said.
When reached for comment Thursday, Mack spokesman David James stopped short of confirming Mack would announce a challenge to Nelson.
“Like I said, wait until 10 a.m.,” James said. “I’ve got to respect the time because obviously this is a major announcement for him.”
Signs that Mack would run against Nelson have been building for months.
Mack, the son of a former U.S. senator, has raised his national profile by speaking to the American Conservative Union’s CPAC convention in Washington.
He garnered an endorsement from Jorge L. Arrizurieta, a key ally of Jeb Bush and a Bush appointee as chief executive of the Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas. Bush has said he will not seek the Senate seat.
And Mack has taken an aggressive tack toward Nelson for his views.
Collier County Republican Executive Committee chairman Frank Schwerin said he’s not sure whether Mack will be announcing a Senate bid or not.
“You know, it could go either way. You presume he’s going to be announcing for Senate,” said Schwerin, adding that Mack could announce that he’s going to run for re-election to the U.S. House.
Schwerin said that it’s really speculative to even be talking about it, until after Mack makes his announcement.
“He’s done a good job here in Southwest Florida. We’d like to keep him here, but if he wants to run for the Senate then he’ll do a good job there,” said Schwerin. “It’s up to him to see what he and his family thinks, if he thinks it’s the right time.”
Democratic Executive Committee of Collier County chair Mickey Gargan said she wouldn’t be surprised if Mack throws his hat into the Senate race.
“His ambitions are following in his father’s footsteps and making his name even better known,” said Gargan. “But he is going to have to take seriously his responsibility to represent his constituents in Florida. He is just not vocal enough on Florida issues.”
If Mack does decide to seek one of the highest offices in Florida, Gargan said he needs to stand up for Florida’s interests and not just the Republican Party’s.
And Mack has some big shoes to fill, Gargan said.
“We really don’t think he’s living up to the legacy of his father in representing the people of Florida in a proper manner,” she said.
Mack won’t be the only Republican trying to replace Nelson.
As of Thursday afternoon, six Republicans have already filed their candidacy with the Florida Division of Elections: Akinyemi Agbede of Winter Park, Alexander L. George of Clermont, Alexander Ilnyckyj of Pensacola, Joshua Larose of Fort Lauderdale, Chuck Lynch of Fort Walton Beach, Michael McCalister of Plant City and Donald Rushing of Windermere.
In addition Mike Haridopolos, president of the Florida Senate, has also expressed his desire to run for the Republican nomination to challenge Nelson.
If Mack vacates his House seat, which covers parts of Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties, several local politicians could be poised to run to replace him.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah and Naples Councilman Gary Price have begun considering a run to replace Mack. Also in the mix is Chauncey Goss, son of former Congressman Porter Goss. For the Democrats, Cape Coral resident James Lloyd Roach has already filed to run for the seat.
On Thursday, Judah said he has not yet decided whether or not to run for the seat.
“It’s still early,” Judah said adding that there may be others who might indicate their interests in entering the race.
Price said he hasn’t made a decision yet either. “I’m still carefully contemplating the opportunity,” he said.
Regardless of what Mack says today, Price said he would weigh his options on his own.
“My decisions aren’t going to be based on what his announcement will be,” he said.
Naples Daily News columnist Brent Batten contributed to this report.