The race is on; Mack, Nelson cruise to expected victories

Connie Mack IV

Connie Mack IV

Bill Nelson

Photo by provided

Bill Nelson

Now the real competition begins.

In what many considered a foregone conclusion, U.S. Rep Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, won about 60 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, blowing past U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon and kicking off his attempt to take down incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

“The choice for Florida is clear and it is stark,” Mack said. “Do we continue down the Obama-Nelson path of more taxing, more spending, more government and less freedom? Or do we ignite America’s comeback with the time-tested policies of less taxing, less spending, less government and more freedom?”

Nelson also faced little resistance in his re-election bid, defeating local businessman Glenn Burkett in Tuesday’s primary with about 80 percent of the vote.

Mack’s coronation as the Republican nominee to tackle the two-term senator had long been forecasted, ever since former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux dropped out of the primary race in June.

The opportunity to face Nelson attracted interest from several potential candidates — LeMieux, former Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. All either dropped out or declined to run.

With the primary complete, Republicans are expected to coalesce behind Mack, whose six-plus years in Congress, conservative stances and political lineage will become selling points for his Senate run. Top Republicans have deemed Nelson vulnerable in November, and early polls have wavered about which candidate owns the early lead.

Mack never seriously addressed his primary opponents, citing his large lead in the polls. Instead, the 45-year-old focused on Nelson, lambasting him for raising taxes and supporting President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Nelson has hit back by challenging Mack’s character, highlighting his run-ins with police and past debts.

To date, both campaigns have been relatively tame, trading glancing blows through press releases and stump speeches at small gatherings, saving haymakers for post-primary television ads.

But with the primary complete and November approaching, Lee County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Gary Lee expects the two sides to ratchet up their efforts.

“Getting the primary behind us will be a contributing force to opening up the treasuries across Florida for money to flow to the nominee,” Lee said.

Mack is unlikely to approach Nelson’s fundraising totals, though Republican political groups, such as super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, are expected to even out spending. Through July 25, the most recent date with available data, Nelson has raised $10.1 million to Mack’s $3.3 million.

A third local candidate, Marielena Stuart of Ave Maria, received 7 percent of the vote in the Republican primary.

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