BELL (AP) — Paula Helton walked up to Republican Connie Mack at a barbecue restaurant in this rural North Florida town and gave some Senate campaign advice.
“Start being more aggressive on Bill Nelson on Medicare,” said Helton, 66, of Gainesville. “Hammer him.”
“I will,” Mack responded.
And he’s trying, not just on Medicare, but on federal spending, taxes, guns and even cows. Mack was wrapping up a six-day, 17-city, 26-stop bus tour on Thursday. He spent it pointing out the differences between him and the two-term Democrat he hopes to replace.
The tour is designed to do two things: get media attention and to get supporters excited about helping the campaign reach voters. But the presidential election between Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney seems to be sucking attention away from the Senate race making Mack’s message harder to hear.
Two years ago, the three-way race among Gov. Charlie Crist, Democrat Kendrick Meek and Republican Marco Rubio gained national attention.
Mack’s tour didn’t generate as much buzz, and Nelson hasn’t been publically campaigning, making the race an afterthought with as Obama, Romney, their running mates or their wives are making weekly appearances in Florida.
“There’s no doubt that this election cycle is different than ‘10. In 2010 with the (Republican) wave and Charlie Crist leaving the party, that was a national story. There’s no doubt this race is different and we do have the presidential race,” Mack said after a Friday stop where he was greeted by about 25 people outside a Destin restaurant. “But I believe we have to do something to turn this country around. I’m fearful about the future of America because of the direction that Senator Nelson and Barack Obama are sending us down.”
Mack, 45, of Fort Myers was well received by those attending the events, whether it was tea party activists or just people curious to hear what he had to say. His speeches were short and to the point — just under two minutes in Destin — and he managed to repeatedly link Nelson’s name with Obama’s.
“The differences couldn’t be more stark,” Mack said in Bell on Wednesday. “When President Obama needed to pass Obamacare, he turned to Senator Nelson. When he needed to pass the stimulus, Senator Nelson was there for him. When he wanted to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, Senator Nelson was there to support President Obama.”
He then went on to criticize Nelson for saying it would be “unconscionable” to make cuts to the Medicaid Advantage then voted for the health care overhaul that included in what the government paid toward the private insurance plans. Nelson agreed to support the bill after negotiating exemptions for Florida seniors who participate, part of a large package of deals Democrats put into the bill.
Later, in Panama City, he addressed a crowd of about 60 people outside a local Republican campaign office.
“Are you ready to repeal Obamacare?” Mack said to shouts of “Yeah!”
“Are you ready to ready to tackle the debt?” he added. “Yeah!” came the response.
Mack went on to say he has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association while Nelson has an “F.” He also mocked Nelson for getting a property tax break on undeveloped land he owns in Brevard County by putting six cows on it. The Nelson campaign has said the land has been pastureland with cattle on it for 57 years and that the senator pays the same rate as everyone else on his home.
“Connie Mack IV has numerous character flaws and a very undistinguished record. Even some Republicans don’t think he’s qualified,” said Nelson spokesman Paul Kincaid. “And, every attack he’s made against Sen. Nelson has been debunked by independent fact checkers.”
Charlotte Kocher, 56, of Panama City Beach said Mack’s visit solidified her support for him. She said she was unfamiliar with him until recently, but began researching him after seeing a Nelson attack ad that, in part, made note that Mack worked with a company that promoted Hooters restaurants before he was first elected to office. She said she liked what she read, was angered by the attack and wanted to see if Mack was the real deal.
“When Nelson started with ‘He’s a Hooter’s man’ — real men are Hooters men,” said Kocher. “I started comparing the two careers and it led me to support this guy. I wanted to make sure to make sure the man I researched was the man who I was going to see.”