Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) takes the stage during the final day of the Republican… (Mark Wilson / Getty Images )
TAMPA, Fla. -- Star candidates in the battle for control of the Senate have taken their campaigns to the Republican National Convention, and home state nominee Connie Mack joined them Thursday night.
Florida is a critical swing state not only for the presidential contest, but in the race for the Senate as Republicans need a handful of seats to take the majority. Here, the GOP is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a region that could test the Paul D. Ryan blueprint for a Medicare overhaul.
Speaking before a video celebrating former President Ronald Reagan, Mack, a four-term congressman and son of a former senator, celebrated that earlier era as he took to the stage. “It's morning in America,” Mack said. “There are new leaders on the horizon -- Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- America's comeback team.”
Republicans need at least three seats to gain control of the chamber if Romney becomes president, or four if President Obama remains in the White House. The convention stage has offered a showcase for other Senate GOP hopefuls during the week in Tampa -- Deb Fischer, who is running against former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey in Nebraska, one of the GOP's best chances to take an open seat that had been in Democratic control; and Rick Berg, the congressman running against Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, in what has become an unusually close race for another open Democratic seat that Republicans hope to capture.
Other Republican Senate candidates, though, and some incumbents in tight races, have stayed away from Tampa. Nonpartisan analysts have said the GOP's chances for achieving a Senate majority have faded some, particularly after Republican candidate Todd Akin in Missouri suggested that pregnancy “rarely” results from “legitimate rape.” He apologized for the comment, but it prompted financial backers to withdraw support for Akin in his the race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Many observers had thought it was a contest the GOP would win.
In Florida, Mack's campaign hit a tough patch recently with a series of attack ads touching on his past -- one that called him the “Charlie Sheen of Florida politics” and another that called him “a promoter for Hooters with a history of bar room brawling, altercations and road rage.”
But the congressman, who is married to Rep. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs, Calif., was upbeat as he told the story of a Cuban immigrant's success in the United States.
“That's what this election is all about -- making the American dream a reality again,” he said. “It's not about the past. It's not about what was done wrong. It's not about blaming America. It's quite the opposite.”
The Democratic incumbent, Nelson, is an attorney and former astronaut, seeking a second term.
Florida could serve as a critical proving ground for the GOP's plan to revamp Medicare by changing it into a voucher-like program for future seniors, people now 55 and younger.
Seniors are a critical voting block in Florida, and elsewhere, and their response to the candidates in Florida will be watched.