Before the ads launched in early August, Nelson had $8.8 million left in the bank compared to Mack’s $1.3 million.
Mack said he’s confident in Romney’s “very aggressive voter ID and turnout model for the state” that helped him win a bruising primary. And, like Romney, Mack is battling the polls.
“They’re just not accurate,’’ Mack told a Pensacola radio talk show last Thursday, echoing a Republican claim that pollsters this year are modeling their numbers on 2008 voter turnout and sampling Democrats more heavily than is prudent.
His latest bus tour featured National Rifle Association President David Keene in Jacksonville and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and outgoing state Senate President Mike Haridopolos in Tampa and touted the support of the National Federation of Independent Business in Lakeland.
Despite the endorsements, Mack finds himself on the defensive by having to introduce himself to voters and counter Nelson’s stinging television ads.
Even in the Panhandle, where the economy runs on tourism and the military and voters are Republican and conservative, Mack’s advantage is not automatic. Nelson has earned support as an outspoken critic of cuts to the military and a vocal advocate for tourism and seafood workers hurt by the BP oil spill.
“I think Connie will win northwest Florida,’’ said Ashton Hayward, the Republican mayor of Pensacola. The economy has made most voters “looking for anything and everything to turn things around.”
But, he added, “Nelson has an incredible name. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Everywhere he goes, Mack urges audiences to “get this country back” and links Nelson to Obama.
“Bill Nelson and Barack Obama believe in a government centralized approach to our lives,’’ he told the Destin crowd. “I believe in free markets, free enterprise. Bill Nelson and Barack Obama have nationalized our healthcare system and they want to nationalize our banks and our automobile industry.”
He accuses Nelson of criticizing the cuts in the Medicare Advantage plan as “unconscionable” but then voting for the Affordable Care Act, which he claims will include the reductions.
Nelson’s spokesman, Paul Kincaid ,counters that Nelson successfully introduced an amendment to shield current Medicare Advantage recipients. And the allegation that the health reform act will cut funding for Medicare has been debunked by many, including PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times website the Miami Herald partners with to check claims by political candidates and others.
Mack criticizes Nelson for voting for the debt-ceiling deal last December, which included the possibility that when the automatic debt reduction trigger known as “sequestration” takes effect there could be as much as $500 billion in cuts to the military over 10 years.
Such deep cuts would be devastating for the Panhandle, which is dependent on Tyndall Air Force Base and the Naval Air Station.
But Kincaid notes that Nelson is working with Republican leaders to forge a compromise and avoid the “sequestration” cuts.
Steve Czonstka, a retired Air Force pilot and defense contractor living in Blue Water Bay, near Destin, doesn’t buy it.
“Bill Nelson comes up here all the time and says nice things about the base and then goes right back to Washington and votes like an Obama clone,’’ he said. “We need someone who walks the talk.”
Mack, however, doesn’t shy away from military budget cuts and voted against the Ryan budget plan because it “doesn’t balance quick enough for me.” He told listeners on Pensacola’s WNRP-1620 AM that he believes the defense budget is not immune to waste. “Sure, there’s a place to cut,’’ he said.
As the conservative talk radio channel devoted an hour to promoting Mack during evening drive time on Thursday, host Branden Rather tried to get a reluctant Mack to offer up one example of something he and Nelson agree on.
“I think he’s a nice guy,’’ Mack replied. “He and his wife Grace are good people.” Mack added, “We need a change. We need to go a different direction.”