Sen. Bill Nelson, Connie Mack IV coast to primary victories

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 35 percent of the vote counted, while Mack had almost 60 percent of the vote in the GOP race.

Mack will try to win back the seat once held by his father, Connie Mack III. 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.

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 four 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 into 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 healthcare 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.

Mack, who is married to California Rep. Mary Bono Mack, was celebrating the victory with his family in Coral Gables, while Nelson was at his Orlando campaign headquarters.

“The most important thing Florida can do this year is elect Mitt Romney President and elect a Republican Senator who will work with a new President to finally pass a budget, reduce spending, undo needless and burdensome regulations and repeal ObamaCare,” said Mack In prepared remarks to supporters in Coral Gables.