Sen. Nelson looks to keep seat against Rep. Connie Mack

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers, two major party candidates for U.S. Senate, will square off in their only face-to-face debate Wednesday night at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers, two major party candidates for U.S. Senate, will square off in their only face-to-face debate Wednesday night at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Republicans hoping to take control of the U.S. Senate would get a big boost if Rep. Connie Mack IV could unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida on Tuesday, but the incumbent's moderate image and likability may be too much to overcome.

The two-term senator was favored to win a race that has been more of an afterthought compared with the battle between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Even some within Mack's own party predicted he needed a big Romney victory in Florida because Nelson has a history of success even when Republicans prevail in other top races on the ballot. The presidential race in Florida was seen as a toss-up.

Mack, 45, represents southwest Florida in Congress. He announced a year ago he would seek the seat his father held before retiring in 2001, and his star appeal is further enhanced by his great-grandfather, a baseball Hall of Famer.

Mack consistently beat the theme that Nelson supported Obama with nearly every vote, including the president's health care overhaul and the $787 billion federal stimulus.

Meanwhile, Nelson quietly raised more than $16 million compared with Mack's $6 million, and spent some of it trying to tear down Mack's reputation through television ads. He depicted Mack as a bar brawling party-boy who planned promotions for Hooters and had a hard time paying bills when he was going through a divorce. The ads referenced incidents Mack was involved in during his early 20s.

Nelson, 70, flew on a space shuttle mission while in Congress, and is a strong proponent of the space program. He co-sponsored legislation in 2010 that lays a foundation for continued space exploration.

For a senator with a target on his back, he didn't spend much time in public making a case for his re-election.

Mack tried to make a splash in this race whenever he could. He made sure he was with Romney or running mate Paul Ryan when they made one of their frequent visits to the state, knowing his fortunes were tied to the top of the ballot.

He called for more debates after the candidates only got together once. The hour-long affair was held before prime-time and gave the candidates little time to detail how they would address the rising cost of Medicare and Social Security, the budget deficit and health care. It was more of a name-calling, finger-pointing debate than a discussion on federal policy.

Mack spent the last three weeks traveling thousands of miles around the state by bus, though he spoke before mostly small crowds, often times just 20 or 30 people.

Nelson held only a couple of events. He attended a press conference Saturday calling for an extension of early voting, and on Monday, he waved signs in Orlando, where he lives, and in Melbourne, where he grew up. He also made an appearance with first lady Michelle Obama.

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