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But where the Mack camp will be in November seems more linked to outside factors than ones in their control.
Florida is a state that looks like an increasingly difficult contest for President Barack Obama to win in November. And buoyed by external factors, some GOP insiders are hopeful that Mack can hew a path to victory.
“He’s got a lot of money to raise, and he’s got a message to clean up, but of course he can win,” Florida GOP consultant Brian Hughes said. “We have to remind voters Nelson is not some old Dixiecrat; he votes with Obama most of the time.”
According to a Congressional Quarterly vote study, Bill Nelson voted with the president 97 percent of the time in 2011 in votes where Obama had a clear position.
“I think Connie’s challenge is to try to say: [Nelson] is Obama’s mini-me,” Navarro said. “Bill’s challenge is to try ... to maintain the crossover votes he’s had in the past.”
One other factor at play: outside groups.
A pro-Mack PAC reportedly got a $1 million infusion from GOP donor Sheldon Adelson recently. And better-funded outside groups, such as the juggernaut GOP-affiliated Crossroads GPS, could change the dynamic of the race in Mack’s favor.
But strategists in both parties wondered whether third-party groups would be willing to gamble on the race given the extraordinarily high cost to move the needle in Florida’s expensive TV markets.
“The Crossroads guys, they’ve got a lot of money but not unlimited money,” said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s winning 2008 campaign in the Sunshine State. “I think they’re going to have to make a decision about whether it’s worth throwing $2 million a week at Nelson if it doesn’t move his numbers.”
Even the Obama-Nelson message is one that Democrats appear to be only marginally worried about, because if Obama doesn’t win the state, he’ll get pretty close. And Nelson is widely expected to outperform the president.
“Bill Nelson is a survivor,” one Republican consultant in the state said. “He’s been in office since ’72. There have been GOP waves and Democratic waves ... and the one constant is that Bill Nelson can connect with voters of Florida.”