Connie Mack Faces Long Historical Odds in Launching Florida U.S. Senate Bid

Only 2 of 15 Florida U.S. Representatives have notched winning U.S. Senate campaigns since 1970 and just 4 of 19 over the last 100 years

conniemack.jpgFour-term Republican U.S. Representative Connie Mack IV is expected to make a major announcement on his candidacy Friday morning for the race to unseat Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in 2012.

While Mack may be viewed as having the inside track for the Republican nomination among those who have declared their candidacies thus far, Florida electoral history suggests the congressman would be far from a favorite to win the seat.

A Smart Politics analysis finds only 2 of 15 Florida U.S. Representatives have launched successful U.S. Senate candidacies since 1970 (13 percent), and just 4 of 19 since popular vote elections were introduced a century ago (21 percent).

On top of that, only one such Representative was able to defeat a sitting incumbent Senator – some 60+ years ago (George Smathers in 1950).

Of course, one could not blame Mack for being optimistic about his chances to be the next Senator from the Sunshine State.

And that is because one of the few U.S. Representatives who successfully upgraded his political resume from Representative to Senator was Mack’s own father, Connie Mack III.

Mack III had served three terms from Florida’s 13th congressional district before running for the Senate in 1988. Mack won that race – by 0.9 points over Congressman Buddy MacKay – to claim Lawton Chiles’ open seat.

But while Connie Mack IV would certainly benefit from his well-known surname, he also faces a legacy of U.S. Senate campaign trails in Florida littered with defeated former Representatives over the years.

In fact, the only two successful candidacies by Representatives over the past 40 years have occurred in open seat races – Connie Mack III in 1988 and Bill Nelson in 2000 – a luxury the GOP nominee will not enjoy in 2012.

The list of failed candidacies by former U.S. Representatives over the last four decades is much more extensive:

· In 1970, eight-term Republican Representative Bill Cramer lost to Democrat Lawton Chiles by 7.7 points.

· In 1974, one-term Representative Bill Gunter lost the Democratic nomination in a race eventually won by Democrat Richard Stone.

· In 1980, Gunter ran again, losing this time in the general election by 3.3 points to Republican Paula Hawkins.

· Also in 1980, former five-term GOP Representative Louis Frey lost his party’s Senate nomination (to Hawkins).

· In 1988, three-term Democratic Representative Buddy MacKay lost his Senate race against Connie Mack III by 0.9 points.

· Also in 1988, five-term Democratic U.S. House member Dan Mica lost his party’s nomination (to MacKay) as did Gunter in a runoff.

· In 1992, former two-term Democrat-turned-Republican Representative Bill Grant won just 34.6 percent of the vote against Democrat Bob Graham in the second of Graham’s three U.S. Senate electoral victories.

· In 2000, 10-term GOP Representative Bill McCollum made the first of his two failed U.S. Senate bids, losing by 4.9 points to Bill Nelson.

· In 2004, McCollum returned to the campaign trail, but failed to receive the GOP nod in an election eventually won by Republican nominee Mel Martinez.

· In that 2004 race, six-term Representative Peter Deutsch lost the Democratic nomination to Betty Castor.

· In 2006, Nelson won his second term in the Senate by defeating two-term Republican Representative Katherine Harris by 22.2 points.

· In 2010, four-term Democratic Representative Kendrick Meek finished a distant third in Florida’s Senate race – 28.7 points behind Republican victor Marco Rubio.

With 15 attempts in just 40 years, U.S. House members from Florida seem to be making a habit out of running for the nation’s upper legislative chamber – despite such limited success.

Contrast that with the mere four U.S. Senate candidacies by House members during the 54-year stretch from 1914 to 1968:

· In 1938, three-term Democratic Representative Mark Wilcox lost his party’s nomination in a race won by Democrat Claude Pepper.

· In 1946, 10-term Democratic Congressman Lex Green lost his party’s nomination to Spessard Holland.

· In 1950, two-term Democratic Representative George Smathers snatched his party’s nomination from two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Claude Pepper en route to a 52.6-point general election blowout victory over GOPer John Booth.

Smathers’ win is the only example in Florida history in which a Representative from the Sunshine State won a U.S. Senate race with a sitting incumbent up for election.

· In 1968, in an open-seat race to replace the retiring Smathers, three-term Republican Representative Edward Gurney was victorious by 11.8 points over Democrat LeRoy Collins.

Of course, Representative Mack would have to outlast several other GOP hopefuls in order to even get the opportunity to upset Nelson in November 2012.

On that list includes a possible former Senator (George LeMieux) as well as Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Florida U.S. Senate Candidacies by Sitting or Former U.S. Representatives, 1914-2010

Year
US Representative
Party
Outcome
2010
Kendrick Meek
Democrat
Lost general
2006
Katherine Harris
GOP
Lost general
2004
Peter Deutsch
Democrat
Lost nomination
2004
Bill McCollum
GOP
Lost nomination
2000
Bill Nelson
Democrat
Won (open)
2000
Bill McCollum
GOP
Lost general
1992
Bill Grant
GOP
Lost general
1988
Dan Mica
Democrat
Lost nomination
1988
Bill Gunter
Democrat
Lost nomination
1988
Connie Mack III
GOP
Won (open)
1988
Buddy MacKay
Democrat
Lost general
1980
Louis Frey
GOP
Lost nomination
1980
Bill Gunter
Democrat
Lost general
1974
Bill Gunter
Democrat
Lost nomination
1970
Bill Cramer
GOP
Lost general
1968
Edward Gurney
GOP
Won (open)
1950
George Smathers
Democrat
Won
1946
Lex Green
Democrat
Lost nomination
1938
Mark Wilcox
Democrat
Lost nomination

Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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