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Congressman Connie Mack IV

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Congressman Connie Mack IV

— Congressman Connie Mack IV ended weeks of buildup and announced Monday he is in the race for U.S. Senate for Florida.

He focused his announcement squarely on Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, choosing not to talk about having to beat a crowded Republican field in the primary to get to face the incumbent.

"It's important that Sen. Nelson does not win a third term in the United States Senate. We can't afford him in the state of Florida and in the country and I think I'm best positioned to beat Senator Nelson," Mack said. "There will be plenty of opportunities between me and the other candidates to have a discussion about who we are, what we stand for, what we believe in and what we want to do when we get to the United States Senate."

He enters the primary as the front-runner after a Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month showed he pulled support away from a GOP field that wasn't stirring much excitement. The poll had Mack about 23 points ahead of his closest opponent. A spokesman revealed a month ago that Mack was preparing to enter the race but hadn't publicly discussed it.

He told The Associated Press on Monday he was making his candidacy official, which he did on Fox News' Sean Hannity's show.

"We can't continue to have failed policies from Senator Nelson and Barack Obama. The two of them have been in lock step in big government liberal policy, whether it's the stimulus, trillions in spending, trillions in taxes, trillions in debt," Mack said.

Mack supports what he calls his "Penny Plan," which would reduce federal spending 1 percent each year for the next six years and then cap spending in the seventh year to balance the budget.

Between now and the Aug. 14 primary, Mack will have to prove he deserves the nomination and that his support isn't just based on his famous name. His father, Connie Mack III, previously held the same Senate seat and his great grandfather is the legendary Hall of Fame baseball manager.

"I'm proud of my father and what he stands for and what he stood for and the work he did in the Senate," Mack said, acknowledging he has to run on his own record. "That's what this next year will be about, to let the people of Florida know exactly what it is I've done."

Between now and the Jan. 31 presidential primary, Mack will be campaigning in Florida with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, including stops in Naples and Tampa on Tuesday. He's filing his Senate paper work with the Federal Elections Commission this week.

Mack's opponents are already attacking him, hoping to take advantage of the poor public approval for Congress. The rest of the field is portraying Mack as a Washington insider and part of the problem with Congress.

"Whether it's voting against TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), stimulus and Obamacare and being one of the few members that has continued to stand on principle, the voters will have that opportunity to make that decision," said Mack, who sits on the Oversight and Government Reform and the Foreign Affairs committees.

Also in the race are former state Rep. Adam Hasner, retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, former Ruth's Chris Steak House CEO Craig Miller and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to fill the last 16 months of Mel Martinez' unexpired term.

Mack was first elected to Congress in 2004 after serving three years in the state House. He's giving up easy re-election to face what could be a bruising primary for the right to face a well-financed two-term incumbent. Mack hasn't had a difficult general election challenge, having won his four elections by an average of 35 percentage points.

Mack earlier this year said he would seek re-election and endorsed Senate President Mike Haridopolos for Senate, but Haridopolos has since dropped out of the race and is now endorsing Mack. Mack initially said he didn't want to take too much time away from family. He is married to California Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack and has two children and two stepchildren.

Bono Mack accompanied him to television studios where he made the announcement and said she supports the decision.

"As a family we understand the time and commitment that will be required," Bono Mack said. "It's going to be a tremendous amount of work, there's no doubt about it, but I think we completely understand what we're in for and believe we're both up to the task."

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