On primary election night, Rep. Connie Mack, who’d just breezed to the GOP Senate nomination, made a brief cameo appearance and remarks before supporters at a Coral Gables restaurant, then was rushed out by a cordon of staffers who pushed reporters aside so they couldn’t get close enough to ask questions.
When I spoke to Mack the next day — he was on a statewide TV satellite tour from Miami — I found out why his staff is so protective.
He’s at war with many political reporters in the state, defensive about riding on his father’s good name and reputation and touchy about his own. He’s in denial about having called Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget a “joke,” arguing that he said “the process is a joke.” Whatever that means.
But here’s the bigger problem for Mack: He doesn’t have much to say that’s new, insightful or especially thoughtful about the big issues facing the country. Things like the economy, unemployment and wars that have lasted for 11 years. Nor does he have much to say about his spotty personal record when he was in his 20s and something of a “roaring boy-o,” as the Irish say. The bar fights, the road-rage incident, the stint with Hooters, personal financial problems, etc., all of which were featured in the first TV spot by Democrat Bill Nelson.
None of that personal stuff really matters to voters, Mack says. Perhaps not if his congressional record were sterling, but it’s not. It’s merely OK. After 12 years in office there is no signature bill that bears his name, no major policy initiative he championed. There is the Mack “penny plan” that would reduce government spending across the board by a penny of every dollar. It’s not a serious proposal and is going nowhere.
So Mack has little to talk about except what a gosh-darned liberal Bill Nelson is. In fact, he’s a “lockstep liberal” who always votes with the president. Mack recites by rote the standard GOP talking points on Obamacare and all the other “failed policies” of the president, which Nelson has often, but not always supported. “Sen.Nelson,” Mack says,” votes like a lockstep liberal in Washington and then comes back to the state of Florida and pulls the wool over the people of the state and likes to act like a moderate. But his voting record is very liberal.”
Shades of the 1988 Senate race! Mack IV is copying what worked for his dad, Connie Mack III, 24 years ago. Mack Sr. was a congressman running for the Senate against Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, another moderate Democrat. But the Mack campaign made him out to be a lefty because he had a social conscience. Mack III’s simple but memorable campaign motto: “Hey Buddy, you’re a liberal!” It was mostly wrong, but it stuck.
So, like father in ’88, like son in 2012: “Hey Bill, you’re a liberal!” Too early to say if it will stick. But anyone who knows anything about Bill Nelson knows he’s anything but liberal. He’s centrist and cautious to a fault.
Nelson, for his part, was also among the missing the day after the primary, which he won handily against a few obscure opponents.
The Nelson campaign sheltered its candidate from inquiring minds, but released a videotape in which the senator blandly regurgitated some standard Democratic Party talking points. The Romney-Ryan ticket, for example, “means the threat (to Medicare) has just gone off the charts. This Romney-Ryan plan, it’s the end to Medicare as we know it.”
So, let’s see where our Senate race stands. On the Democratic side it’s the old Medi-scare and end-of-Social-Security-as-we-know-it strategem. On the Republican side it’s demonizing the Democrat as a classic borrow-and-spend liberal who will cause Medicare and Social Security to go broke and an ally of a president who can’t fix the economy. It’s early in the campaign, but these two guys remind me of a couple of middle-school boys out on the playground at recess arguing over the ball. It’s mine! No, it’s mine!
Floridians deserve better than what either candidate is thus far offering.
Don’t these guys remember that unemployment in the state has just nudged up to 8.8 percent and is at least twice that high in minority communities? That home foreclosures are heating up again? That voters are deeply concerned about the “fiscal cliff” the government may tumble over on Jan. 1? That our men and women in uniform continue to die in Afghanistan, lately at the hands of our Afghan “allies.” And Iran and Israel are inexorably pushing each other toward the brink of a shooting war. Those are the things Florida voters want to hear about.
Messrs. Mack and Nelson, if you’ve got an A game, the time to bring it is now.