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Hooters, barroom brawls and road rage in Florida U.S. Senate race

August 27, 2012|By Paul West

ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs in the November election, you’d think that big issues like the the country’s massive fiscal problems would be center stage in the relative handful of contests that will decide whether Republicans take away the Democrats’ majority.

Of course, you’d probably be wrong. True, the issue of Medicare is a growing focus of attention in campaigns, from the presidential race on down. That’s been the case all year in the hotly contested Senate race in Florida, home to the nation’s largest proportion of seniors (though both sides are mainly using "Mediscare" tactics to try to influence voters).

But with incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson trying to fight off a challenge from Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV, the race has grown extremely personal. Nelson, in one of the most personal ads of 2012 season, is going after the GOP nominee’s character. The Nelson attack ad describes Mack as "a promoter for Hooters with a history of bar room brawling, altercations and road rage" and goes after his "questionable work habits" in Congress. (The 30-second ad manages to mention Medicare too).

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Mack has been elected to the House four times from a heavily Republican district in southwestern Florida.  He’s less well-known statewide, though longtime Florida voters are familiar with his name. His father, Connie Mack III, served 12 years in the Senate, retiring in 2000, when Nelson took over the seat. (The younger Mack is married to U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs.)

PolitiFact, the independent fact-checking website, rates the allegations in the Nelson ad “mostly true.”  The ad does make “some key omissions,” PolitiFact pointed out, including that the altercations mentioned in the spot took place when Mack was in his 20s and that his work for Hooters ended 12 years ago.

What the ad indicates is that Nelson — who led Mack 50% to 41% in a recent statewide poll – intends to put his foot on the neck of his Republican rival and not let up.

Meanwhile, Mack, in a Web-ad response to the Nelson ad, accuses the senator of voting to "raise our taxes 150 times." PolitiFact rated the charge "false."

The mudslinging in Florida suggests that the Senate race will probably be decided on the basis of who does the best job of taking the low road, not by high-minded appeals from either side on the issues.

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Paul.west@latimes.com

Twitter: @paulwestdc

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