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ON the one hand, Representative Connie Mack IV is blessed with an auspicious name, especially for someone who wants to be a United States Senator from Florida the way his venerable father was. It also doesn’t hurt that Floridians love baseball (many major league teams train here) and the Republican Senate candidate is the great-grandson and namesake of the Hall of Fame owner and manager who ran the Philadelphia Athletics for the first half of the 20th century. “I am extremely proud to have this name,” said the handsome hopeful who was born Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy IV in Fort Myers 45 years ago.
A boyish-looking four-term congressman, Mr. Mack was sitting on a bar stool recently at a sports pub in Plantation, Fla., after the only debate with his opponent, theDemocratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Mr. Mack was joined at the bar by a roster of family members that included his father, who represented Florida in the Senate from 1989 to 2001, and his second wife, Mary Bono, a Republican member of Congress from California and Sonny’s widow.
A few minutes earlier, a man had approached Mr. Mack and asked him to sign a baseball. He obliged, as did his father and his 10-year-old son, Connie Mack V, who goes by the nickname Cinco de Macko. Signing baseballs for strangers is one of the cool things that can happen when you go through life as a Connie Mack.
On the other hand, the name can become problematic when you introduce it to Mr. Google, and suddenly words like “road rage,” “financial problems” and “Hooters” start flying around like glasses in a barroom brawl — and yes, the phrase “barroom brawl” pops up, too.
Such associations all come courtesy of Connie IV, whose past misadventures could be dismissed as youthful indiscretions except for the ones that occurred when he was not all that youthful (the breakup of his first marriage in 2006 and a bitter divorce, a spotty attendance record in Congress, and, in July, a public vendetta against one of Florida’s most prominent political journalists).
A big reason this unpleasantness affixes so readily to Mr. Mack is that his political opponents have made certain of it. George LeMieux, Mr. Mack’s opponent in the Republican primary, called him the “Charlie Sheen of Florida politics.” And Mr. Nelson’s campaign has expended zillions of dollars and words “educating” voters on these matters and taking particular glee in reminding everyone, for example, that Mr. Mack used to work as “a promoter for Hooters.” (In fact, Mr. Mack once worked as a marketing executive for a firm that owned several of the, uh, owl-themed establishments.)
There was also a 1992 bar fight with the professional baseball player Ron Gant in an Atlanta bar called Calico Jack’s. “My biggest regret about that fight with Ron Gant is that I lost,” Mr. Mack said, citing the broken ankle he suffered.
Mr. Nelson, 70, a onetime astronaut, might be among the more innocuous members of the United States Senate and someone whose personality is perhaps better suited to his previous job as the state’s treasurer and insurance commissioner. It seems his most crucial political talent has been for drawing terribly flawed opponents.
He sailed to re-election in 2006 over the Republican Katherine Harris, a member of Congress at the time who is best known as the state’s mascara-coated secretary of state during the Bush v. Gore recount of 2000. Next up is this year’s opponent, Mr. Mack, who despite his golden lineage comes freighted with more baggage than a Miami cruise ship.
Even so, the Florida Senate race had the makings of a classic: vulnerable opponent in a big, colorful swing state opposed by a well-backed congressman with instant name recognition.
Mr. Mack’s checkered past made things potentially even more interesting, and many political wiseguys expected Florida’s to be one of the country’s most fascinating Senate contests, up there with Scott Brown versus Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, George Allen versus Tim Kaine in Virginia and Claire McCaskill versus Todd Akin in Missouri.
As it has turned out, Mr. Nelson has been ahead in the polls by about 8 to 10 points for months, although the spread appears to have closed of late (down to 5.5 percent according to averages compiled by RealClearPolitics from Oct. 8 to 18). Though the pair engaged in a spirited and nasty debate on Oct. 17, Mr. Nelson’s basic strategy has been to attack Mr. Mack, refuse more face-to-face encounters with him and basically hope no one notices that there is a Senate campaign going on here (through a spokesman, he declined repeated requests for even a brief interview).
And yet the Florida campaign has also, somehow, made for an oddly fascinating spectacle.
“It’s so boring it’s almost interesting,” said Adam Smith of The Tampa Bay Times, perhaps the state’s most influential political journalist. He became an unwitting part of the story after Mr. Mack’s campaign released a letter in July accusing his newspaper of being “The National Enquirer of Florida politics” and Mr. Smith of using the newspaper’s “endless assets to attack, mock and try to torpedo Connie’s candidacy.”
This came after The Times’s editorial board backed Mr. Mack’s Republican primary opponent, Representative Dave Weldon, in an endorsement that said Mr. Mack had “questionable work habits, a sense of entitlement and an undistinguished record in Congress.”
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