Cell Phone: Nelson speaks about victory
Nelson tops Mack.
ESTERO — Connie Mack is out at home. And it wasn’t even close.
The hometown congressman, whose U.S. Senate campaign never took off after a barrage of attack ads defined him early in the campaign, was handily defeated Tuesday by incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, the Orlando Democrat who will serve Florida for a third term. As of 10:45 p.m., Nelson had a commanding 55.1 to 42.4 percent lead.
With his mother and father, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III, standing over his right shoulder, Mack thanked a couple hundred supporters at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero. Mack’s campaign had been largely launched on the family name and his conservative credentials, which weren’t enough to overtake Nelson.
“This is not a sad moment. This is an inspiring moment,” Mack said in conceding, a few dozen family members set behind him against a black backdrop. “This is about what America is. We went through the battle and fought hard to win. We didn’t win, but we continue to fight for the ideals and beliefs that we always believed in, that America is best and strong when we stand up for our values and our principles and our freedom.”
Mack’s statement that he would ride the coattails of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to the U.S. Senate never came to fruition, with ticket-splitters dooming the four-term U.S. House representative. While Romney found himself in an incredibly tight race, Nelson won over independents and moderate-minded Republicans who backed Romney but not Mack.
The need to reach across partisan lines has been the story line of Nelson’s campaign. Nelson touted his work with Republicans on the campaign trail, and the theme played a major role in his victory speech Tuesday night.
“What I will try to continue to do, as I have through my entire elected public life, is to try to reach across the aisle and bring people together and reach a consensus so we can govern this country,” Nelson told the excited crowd.
Once absentee and early voting results started coming in at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nelson’s victory was never in doubt. While Romney held close to President Barack Obama, Nelson easily carried a double-digit lead throughout the night. By 8:30 p.m., with voters still in line across the state, the race had been called by the Associated Press. Shortly before 9 p.m., Nelson took the stage at his Orlando victory party.
Across Florida, the gap in the U.S. Senate race ended up much larger than the tight presidential campaign. In Collier County, for example, Romney led by about 30 percent, while Mack held a 21-point advantage as of 10:45 p.m. In Lee County, Romney’s 13 percent lead dwarfed Mack’s 3-point margin of victory. And in bellwether Hillsborough County, Obama was ahead by 6 percent to Nelson’s 20 percent.
Nelson had nothing but good things to say about Mack in his prepared remarks, and said the two spoke earlier in the evening. Mack, the senator said, was his opponent in this year-long campaign, not his enemy.
“He was very gracious,” Nelson said of his conversation with Mack.
Throughout the campaign, Mack’s parents were an ever-constant presence. Introducing his son, Connie Mack III said he and his wife, Priscilla, moved to Miami, near the campaign headquarters, for several months to work full-time for the campaign.
In perhaps a nod to Nelson’s early attack ads, which highlighted Mack’s missed votes in Congress and run-ins with police earlier in life, Mack said he was “proud” of the campaign he ran. Most of Mack’s advertising was positive, though the challenger benefited from millions of dollars worth of negative ads put into the race by outside spending groups. The pair also traded barbs at their lone debate and on the campaign trail.
“I decided early on in this race that I wanted this to be about good things and positive things, about the future of America, about the things you’d want to teach your children and I’d want to teach my children,” Mack said.
While Mack insinuated he ran a clean campaign and Nelson painted his opponent rosy, Nelson’s wife, Grace, fired the missives her husband wouldn’t.
“You don’t win in America by cheating, changing the rules, bullying and hiding behind special interest money,” she said.
The tenor of the campaigns disappointed Mack supporters Bill and Celeste Steeves, an Estero couple who attended Mack’s event.
“I thought it was a little clean from the Republican side and a little dirty on the side of Democrats,” said Bill Steeves, 63. “The Democrats didn’t hold back on anything.”
Local business owner and former conservative talk show host Trey Radel will take Mack’s open U.S. House seat after easily defeating two opponents.
ESTERO_ U.S. Senate hopeful Connie Mack conceded the race Tuesday evening at about 9:30 p.m., thanking his family and supporters at the Hyatt Regency in Estero and predicting presidential candidate Mitt Romney would still pick up Florida despite his loss.
"This is not a sad moment. This is an inspiring moment," Mack said, standing before a few dozen family members. "This is about what America is. We went through the battle and fought hard to win. We didn't win, but we continue to fight for the ideals and beliefs that we always believed in, that America is best and strong when we stand up for our values and our principles and our freedom."
As of 9:45 p.m., Mack trailed incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by about 12.4 percent with roughly 7.2 million votes in. Unlike his prediction, Mack couldn't ride the Romney coattails to a victory, as Romney trails only by about 0.15 percent.
A couple hundred Mack supporters crowded around the stage where Mack's father, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III, introduced his son. The challenger spoke of running a positive campaign -- a likely reference to Nelson's attack ads that defined Mack early.
"It's with some sadness that unfortunately we didn't win," Mack said. "But I'll tell you this. I am very proud of the campaign that we ran. I decided early on in this race that I wanted this to be about good things and positive things, about the future of America, about the things you'd want to teach your children and I'd want to teach my children."
After thanking family and fans, Mack retreated from the crowd, following the outcome of the presidential race with family.
* * * * * *
Sen. Bill Nelson stood in front of a cheering crowd on Tuesday night and thanked hundreds of supporters who filled the ballroom at the Embassy suites in downtown Orlando.
This will be Nelson's third term in office. But the Orlando Democrat said he doesn't plan to wait until he's inaugurated in January to begin making good on a campaign promise to reach across party lines to help Floridians. Instead, Nelson said he plans to start working on that goal later this month when the Senate resumes its session.
The need to reach across partisan lines has been the story line of Nelson's campaign. Nelson touted his work with Republicans on the campaign trail, and the theme played a major role in his victory speech Tuesday night.
“What I will try to continue to do as I have through my entire elected public life is to try to reach across the aisle and bring people together and reach a consensus so we can govern this country,” Nelson told the excited crowd.
Afterward, when asked about whether he'll be able to continue that work if there's a major shift in Congress, Nelson said it won't be a problem.
“I can work with anyone,” he said. “We have been successful … at a time when others have not.”
Nelson had nothing but good things to say about his Republican opponent, Mack, in his prepared remarks, and said the two spoke earlier in the evening. Mack, the senator said, was his opponent in this year-long campaign, not his enemy.
“He was very gracious,” Nelson said of his conversation with Mack.
While Nelson kept relatively quiet about his opponent and the political action committees that poured money into Mack's campaign, Nelson's wife, Grace Nelson, shot back saying Tuesday night's results showed Floridians aren't easily swayed by attack ads.
“You don't win in America by cheating, changing the rules, bullying and hiding behind special interest money,” she said.
As the night wound down and the crowd started to wander out the door, Nelson sipped water in between interviews and caught quick glimpses of other election night results on one of three big screen televisions. Aides whispered results in his ear, while Nelson shook hands and snapped pictures with reporters.
“I'm humbled by this margin and by the opportunity to continue,” Nelson said.
Sen. Bill Nelson said he would continue to work with Republicans to help unify the nation during his third term as United States senator.
Nelson said Americans are “tired of division and want unity.” He said Republican opponent Connie Mack was not his enemy, but his opponent and the now both sides need to come together to get the country back on track.
Grace Nelson, the senator's wife, introduced her husband, saying Floridians picked the right man for the job. She said tonight's results show elections can't be bought.
“You don't win in America by cheating, changing the ruls, bullying or hiding behind special interest money,” she said.
NBC News is reporting on its national newscast at 8:01 p.m. that U.S. Sen Bill Nelson is the projected winner in Florida over Fort Myers Congressman Connie Mack, a Fort Myers Republican.
The Associated Press also called the race for Nelson at 8:03 p.m.
Early voting and absentee numbers are in from Collier County, and they show exactly what U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack didn't want: ticket splitters.
Mack took about 60 percent of the vote in Collier County among the roughly 94,500 residents who voted in the Senate race. By contrast, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received 64 percent of the vote. Throughout the state, the gap between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Mack is distinctly larger than the one between President Barack Obama and Romney.
Early and absentee voting results in Lee County are equally rough for Mack as they were in Collier County.
While Mack owns a slight lead, at 49.5-48 percent, the margin is much smaller than Mitt Romney's 10-point lead in Lee County. Mack garnered about 37,000 votes to Bill Nelson's roughly 35,800. Romney took about 42,000 early and absentee votes to Obama's roughly 33,800.
Those votes don't include people who went to the polls today. Still, for Mack to only have a 1.5-point lead in his home county doesn't bode well for Mack.
About 50 supporters have arrived at Mack's event in Estero.
Early and absentee voting results are being posted throughout the state. Here's a sampling of differences between the candidates:
Collier: Romney +30,003, Mack +21,827
Miami-Dade: Obama +382, Nelson +12,815 (only absentee)
Hillsborough: Obama +28,460, Nelson +66,165
Duval: Romney +3,974, Nelson +21,582
Palm Beach: Obama +65,374, Nelson +78,106
Orange: Obama +56,327, Nelson +76,228
Nelson has pulled ahead in his home county, Orange County, according to early voting and absentee tallies released on the Orange County Supervisor of Elections website.
The Orlando-area Democrat leads Mack with 64.76 percent, or 155,686 votes, to Mack's 33.33 percent, or 80,122. The results, according to the site, reflect all early voting results and most absentee ballots.
The ballroom at the Embassy Suites is starting to fill up, and crowd members are cheering as early numbers flash across the screen.
Orlando resident Diana Beeton said she decided to come to the party because she “definitely wanted to be a part of the celebration.”
Beeton said she spent about three days over the past week or so volunteering for the Nelson campaign, as well as campaigns for local Democrats and President Barack Obama. Beeton said she knocked on about 100 doors and made dozens of phone calls urging people to support Democrats on Election day.
“I think it's going to be exciting,” Beeton said as she watched CNN on one of three projection screens in the ballroom.
Nelson is not expected to make an appearance until the race has been called, but there have been some rumblings that could be as early as 8:45 p.m.
Workers are still setting up at the Hyatt Regency in Estero, where U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack will hold his election night event in his home district.
Tables with buckets full of mesh baseballs are planted across a hotel ballroom, with a podium for Mack flanked by two large screens. A few early supporters have wandered in for the 7 p.m. start, though a much larger crowd is expected.
The polls have closed but results won't start to be posted until 8 p.m., when lines are cut off in the Central Time Zone portion of the Panhandle.
Mack enters the night as an underdog, trailing in virtually all polls. The Fort Myers congressman has said his internal polling shows him with a 1.4-point lead in the final week.
With about 90 minutes before polls close in Florida's northwest corner, the ballroom at the Embassy Suites in downtown Orlando is filled with media looking to catch a glimpse of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
At 6:30 p.m., the number of media in attendance far outnumber the number of supporters. But some supporters can be found milling around the room and snacking on food. Three projection screens have been set up and news stations – local channel 13 News, CNN and MSNBC – are being projected onto the screen.
A spokesman for the Nelson campaign said he is expected to come to the ballroom once the election is called. He likely will then greet supporters, before doing one-on-one interviews with television reporters.
The event is an Orange County Democrats' event, and supporters are expected to start filling the room as the polls close.
Areas of the Panhandle are in a different time zone than the peninsula of Florida, so there is an hour's difference on when the polls close.
Mack, a Fort Myers resident, has spent much of the past year running for office, and a loss would mean the first time in decades where a Mack — either Mack or his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III — hasn't represented Florida in an elected office.
Mack has struggled in public polls in recent weeks, and the RealClearPolitics average of polls on Sunday said put Nelson at a 6.5-percentage point lead. Mack, however, told the Naples Daily News he was optimistic about the results come Election Day.
“We feel good about where we are and where we’ll end up on Election Day,” Mack said last week after casting a ballot in Fort Myers. “We need people to get out the vote.
Mack was first elected to the U.S. House of Representative in 2004. The elder Mack held the same position from 1983 to 1989, before being elected to Senate in 1989 where he stayed until 2000. Prior to becoming a United States congressman, Mack IV served in the state House
Nelson was first elected to Senate in 2000, and has defeated Republican opponents in his past two elections by wide margins.
Like Mack, the Orlando Democrat served in both the Florida Legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the first member of the House to fly on a space shuttle, an experience he references at almost every turn.
While the Senate race should have been one of the state’s more high-profile races, the race was stuck in the shadow of presidential politics.
Nelson raised $12.3 million this election cycle, while Mack raised about $6.2 million.
Both men spent millions of dollars on attack ads, and Mack had the financial support from several high-profile political action committees, like the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads.
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