This has to be the most f*cked-up way to launch a campaign I've ever seen:
After passing on a bid earlier this year, GOP Rep. Connie Mack has decided to enter the U.S. Senate race in Florida, POLITICO has learned.
"Connie Mack is entering the Senate race. He is making calls and assembling a team. He will have more to announce in weeks to come. Not only will he be the nominee of the Republican Party, but will defeat the out-of-step, liberal Senator Bill Nelson," Mack adviser David James told POLITICO on Wednesday night.
When asked why the congressman changed his mind, James would only say that he wanted someone to emerge who could defeat Nelson and that "did not happen." He said Mack would address his change of heart more specifically in the coming weeks.
Man. Ridic. Back in March, you'll recall, Mack was all set to enter the race—an advisor even told Politico's Dave Catanese that "there was nothing wrong with saying it's expected" that Mack would make an announcement on Friday the 25th. Instead, everything went absolutely haywire that day, and Mack wound up telling the world he would not run. (And though Catanese openly acknowledged he got burned, he refused to out his lying "source.")
Mack's shocking reversal left the GOP field without its presumptive front-runner. The one man who had sufficient establishment pedigree and nominally acceptable conservative bona fides, state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, turned out to be an astonishing bumbler plagued by gaffes, ethical lapses, and weak fundraising. He wound up bailing in mid-July, which left Republicans desperately hoping for someone better to come along and take on Nelson.
But it wasn't going to be Mack. In August, when asked again, Mack said no. Late in September, the only other remaining savior, the wealthy but ethically questionable Rep. Vern Buchanan, finally declined as well. The GOP was going to have to live with a very weak field indeed.
Then, the next day, Connie Mack started getting frisky again:
"I don't have any intention to run for the Senate," he said, but added, "I'm looking at all the candidates just like everyone else and looking for one to distinguish himself … to stand out. I would have thought by now that one would."
Asked whether he'd reconsider if that doesn't change, he responded, "My intentions right now are to remain where I am." But when a questioner suggested he wasn't ruling out the idea, he responded, "I'll leave that up to your interpretation."
Quite the about-face for the guy who, when he declined to run in March, had said:
"I've got two small children and it's hard enough to get to spend a lot of good quality time now. I have a wife. They are all very important to me and at the end of the day family has to be number one."
And now the transformation is complete. Mack has somehow managed to go from "expected to run" to "not running" to "still not running" to "no intention to run" to "running." It's enough to make you question his level of fire in the belly, and I think it's going to be difficult for him to articulate why exactly he feels motivated to run now, in late October, after spurning the chance to do so half a year ago.
And while I'm sure the Florida GOP is excited to have a more prominent candidate in the race, and while Mack surely has natural advantages (his father, Connie Mack III, was a two-term senator), he also has been an occasional apostate and may not be loved by the base. As I wrote back in February with regard to a lengthy and interesting profile of Mack in the St. Petersburg Times:
Mack is a hardcore conservative, but remember—it's not just about how you vote, it's about how you belong. And Mack has taken a few stances that put his tribal membership into some doubt, such as "supporting stem cell research, defending WikiLeaks and denouncing Arizona's tough immigration law as Gestapo-like."
A March PPP poll (PDF) suggested he would be the front-runner in the GOP primary, but not by very big margins. While I'd still consider him the favorite for the nomination, I don't know that it will be a smooth ride. And even if he does get the nod, and even if he does raise a ton of money, it will probably be challenging for him to break through on the airwaves when Florida voters are inundated with ten times as many Obama and Romney ads as they are ads for Nelson and Mack.
Don't get me wrong: This is still a good get for Republicans. It's just not as good as it would have been back in March, and I'd still call Nelson the favorite to win the general election. But who knows? Mack could still change his mind... again.