In a sudden about-face that dramatically reshapes the Florida Senate race, an adviser to Rep. Connie Mack said on Wednesday that the four-term Republican will seek his party's nomination to run against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
David James, a senior adviser to the congressman, told the Miami Herald that Mack is already adding staffers for his campaign.
"Connie Mack is running for the U.S. Senate," James told the paper. "He is making calls. He is assembling a team. And he will have more to announce about the run in the weeks ahead."
Mack had previously declined to run, instead endorsing state Senate President Mike Haridopolos. But the state leader decided to end his campaign in July, opening the door for Mack.
The congressman enters a race that still features a bevy of Republicans, including former Sen. George Lemieux and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner. But the field has been seen as disappointing thus far and lacking a true front-runner.
Mack could change that. His father and namesake, Connie Mack, served two terms in the Senate, giving him inherited name ID as high, if not higher than Lemieux or Hasner. Mack could likely raise far more money.
"Worst-case scenario is he comes in at the same level as the rest of the field," said Jamie Miller, a GOP consultant and former executive director of the state party. "My guess is he starts out higher."
Mack has sought to distinguish himself in Congress as an outspoken critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's repressive tactics, endearing the congressman to foreign policy hawks. But he stood apart from the conservative wing of his party by criticizing Arizona's tough crackdown on illegal immigration.
"This law of 'frontier justice' – where law enforcement officials are required to stop anyone based on “reasonable suspicion” that they may be in the country illegally – is reminiscent of a time during World War II when the Gestapo in Germany stopped people on the street and asked for their papers without probable cause," he said last year. "It shouldn’t be against the law to not have proof of citizenship on you." At a time when Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's moderate record on immigration has cost him support from conservative voters, Mack rivals could seek to capitalize on his opposition to the Arizona law.
Mack's most prized asset is his family name. His father held the same House seat that he now does before going on to the Senate; his great-grandfather, a baseball Hall of Famer, was the longtime owner of the Philadelphia Athletics. Still, the state's rapidly changing electorate in the decade since his father left Congress means Mack will still have to introduce himself to a lot of Florida voters.
He is married to another member of Congress: Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California, who succeeded her late former husband, musician Sonny Bono, representing a Palm Springs district.