Connie Mack fuels debate by joining establishment fray for Senate

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack’s decision to join the field of GOP candidates vying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson promises to shake up one of Florida’s most watched political contests of 2012, according to some political strategists.

Mack’s about-face came as somewhat of a surprise, since just earlier this year, he disappointed his supporters by choosing not to run for the seat held from 1989 to 2001 by his father, Connie Mack III.

The details about Mack’s campaign are still being worked out, his adviser said.

“He is making calls. He is assembling a team. And he will have more to announce about the run in the weeks ahead,” said David James, a senior adviser.

But within minutes of Mack’s bare-bones announcement, political strategists and commentators were already abuzz over what his entry into the race will mean.

“Now there are three establishment candidates in the race — Mack, [Adam] Hasner and [George] LeMieux,” said GOP strategist and BIZPACReview.com President Jack Furnari. “Neither Hasner nor LeMieux generated much excitement among the party faithful. We’ll be able to tell very soon if Connie Mack can garner the kind of wide support with rank-and-file Republican voters that, so far, none of the other candidates have been able to generate.”

Some tea party activists, who think the Fort Myers congressman is too “Republican establishment,” are concerned that, with Mack’s name recognition and connections in Washington, D.C., he is now the inevitable GOP choice.

Karen Hoffman, founder of DC Works for Us, has been a voice of leadership among the Tea Party and grassroots organizations. She works closely with other State and National leaders.

“It is not a surprise that Connie Mack is entering the race for the Senate seat. It would be a natural step for him,” said Karen Hoffman, founder of DC Works for Us and a voice of leadership among several tea party and grassroots organizations.

“It is difficult to see how he would be committed to the state of Florida, as California has been his residence of choice, even as a sitting legislator. This is reminiscent of the similar issue with U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler.”

Wexler, a prominent Democrat in the U.S. House until his departure last year, was hotly criticized for listing his mother-in-law’s Delray Beach condo as his official residence when he and his family lived in suburban Maryland most of the year.

“Regarding immigration, [Mack] has been trying to persuade Tallahassee to not follow Arizona’s immigration policy,” Hoffman added. “His stance on this issue is a clear departure from the tea party.”

Mack also came under conservative fire when he compared Arizona’s law to Nazi Germany, well-publicized comments that may make it even tougher to win over tea party skeptics like Hoffman.

“The new Arizona law strikes a severe blow to freedom and the principles that make our nation strong,” Mack said in April. “This law of ‘frontier justice’ – where law enforcement officials are required to stop anyone based on ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they may be in the country illegally – is reminiscent of a time during World War II when the Gestapo in Germany stopped people on the street and asked for their papers without probable cause. It shouldn’t be against the law to not have proof of citizenship on you.”

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of Palm Beach County’s Republican Party, called Mack’s name recognition a considerable strength.

“Connie Mack has figured out two things: More people recognize the name Connie Mack than the names Hasner, LeMieux, [Craig] Miller and [Mike] McCalister, and Bill Nelson is gone with the space program,” Dinerstein said.

Reaction from the other Republican candidates in the race was swift, too, including this statement from the McCalister campaign, released to BPR:

“Let me be the first to welcome Congressman Connie Mack to the race for Senate. He knows firsthand from his many years working with the Washington establishment how broken our government is, and I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s done to fix our problems and create jobs. I presume he’s learned from the Tallahassee insiders that you can’t attack your way to a victory in the GOP primary, and I look forward to an energetic campaign focused on the important issues facing our state and country.”

And from the Hasner team, adviser Alberto Martinez sent Mack a two-word welcome via Twitter: “Game on.”

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