MIAMI (AP) -- August 14, 2012 - 8pm -
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson will face Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV after both easily won their primary elections on Tuesday.
Nelson had almost 80 percent of the vote with 66 percent of the vote counted, while Mack had almost 60 percent of the vote in the GOP race.
"We won the primary," Mack said to cheers shortly after 8 p.m. at a small gathering in Coral Gables that included his wife, California Rep. Mary Bono Mack, and his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III.
Mack will try to win back the seat his father once held. Nelson won the seat in 2000 after the elder Mack retired. Both Nelson and the younger Mack have already been preparing for a head-to-head matchup after facing weak primary opposition.
"It's a good night. This is just the beginning," Mack said before announcing the news to the crowd. "This is really where the campaign starts, where we have to bring everybody together and work as one team, make sure we have the resources and the people to get out the vote, and with Mitt Romney on the top of the ticket, it's going to help us do that."
Mack, buoyed by the famous name he also shares with his great-grandfather, the Hall of Fame baseball manager, was immediately the favorite to win the nomination when he entered the race in November. Three other candidates dropped out ahead of the election, leaving former Rep. Dave Weldon as the best-known candidate to challenge him. But Weldon entered the race just three months before the primary, leaving him little time to build a campaign in a state with more than 4 million registered Republicans.
Nelson has already hit Mack with a negative ad that points out trouble Mack got into in his 20s with a bar fight, an arrest and road rage incidents. It's an attack used repeatedly by former Sen. George LeMiuex before he dropped out of the primary.
Months before Mack got in the race, he was attacking Nelson with web videos and through political emails, calling him a "lockstep liberal" who supports President Barack Obama's major policies, including the health care overhaul. Mack has also criticized Nelson for trying to make the campaign about "what I did as a kid" and the work he did for a company that did promotions for Hooters restaurants instead of talking about the economy and the federal deficit.
Nelson was at his Orlando campaign headquarters when the race was called. His campaign didn't immediately release a statement on the race, but The Florida Democratic Party did.
"The primaries today mean Floridians will have a clear choice in the U.S. Senate race in November," state party Chairman Rod Smith said. "Bill Nelson, who always puts Florida first, or Mack, someone with an undistinguished record and a sense of entitlement. Voters will have a choice between someone committed to protecting Medicare and Social Security, Nelson, and someone whose own budget plan would cut massive amounts of money from both programs, Mack."
The following is a statement released by Dr. Dave Weldon:
"I want to thank all of my volunteers and supporters for helping me during this short and intense campaign. It has been a great joy to travel the state and to meet so many patriotic Floridians. I know we share the same passion for liberty, our Constitution, and a desire for a better future. The can-do American spirit that has built and sustained this great country lives on in Florida! While it did not turn out as we had hoped, we must now do everything we can to help elect the Romney/Ryan team and help Connie Mack defeat Bill Nelson. Connie has my endorsement. I now will return to my medical practice, my wife and family. However, I will remain engaged and do my part to help the Republican ticket. The future of our nation is at stake."
August 14, 2012 - 11pm -
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack appeared likely to cruise to easy wins Tuesday in their respective primaries setting up what will be a crucial matchup in November for the makeup of the U.S. Senate.
Nelson, seeking his third term, had only token opposition from little-known challenger Glenn Burkett, of Naples, and had already been focused on Mack, who has been the front-runner in the GOP primary for some time as well. With about 60 percent of the votes counted, Nelson had 80 percent of the vote over Burkett.
Mack, however, had better known opposition from within his own party, with former Congressman Dave Weldon, who jumped into the race late, drawing some more socially conservative voters away from Mack, who is generally seen as a particularly staunch fiscal conservative.
Mack still looked likely to win easily; with nearly 60 percent of the vote counted, he was leading Weldon 59 percent to 20 percent. Also in the Republican primary were retired military officer Mike McCalister, who had 14 percent and Marielena Stuart, who had 7 percent in early returns that were expected to hold up.
While Nelson, 69, is often thought of as a low-profile member of the Senate, Democrats have a four to six seat advantage in the chamber, depending on the votes of two independents, and the Florida race is one of several where Republicans have hopes of a pick-up that could flip control of the chamber.
Nelson was elected to the Senate in 2000, but has held some political office in Florida for 40 years.
Mack is the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, who was replaced by Nelson in the Senate when he retired in 2001. The younger Mack has been in Congress, representing southwest Florida since 2005.
Because of his name recognition – in addition to his politician father, Mack is the great grandson and namesake of Connie Mack I, the famous baseball manager - and with backing of some in the GOP establishment, Mack chased some other earlier GOP candidates out of the primary. George LeMieux, who held a Florida U.S. Senate seat briefly after former Sen. Mel Martinez stepped down early, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos dropped out earlier.