Mack's retirement means competitive race for Senate in Florida
Rep. Stabenow may be trouble for GOP in Michigan
By Stuart Rothenberg
March 16, 1999
WASHINGTON (March 16) -- Republican Sen. Connie Mack would be re-elected easily next year if he had opted to seek a third term in the United States Senate. But instead, Mack, who served three terms in the House of Representatives before narrowly winning election to the Senate in 1988, has decided to do other things with his life, and that decision guarantees a competitive race for his open seat.
Two Democrats quickly expressed interest in their party's nomination: Rep. Peter Deutsch and state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson.
Deutsch, born in New York City and a 10-year member of the Florida Legislature, represents a portion of Southeast Florida, including the southern part of Broward County and western Dade County, as well as Monroe County.
Nelson, who started his political career in the Legislature, served six terms in the U.S. House (first winning election in 1978 and not seeking re-election in 1990), representing Brevard County, a coastal area east of Orlando that included Cape Kennedy/Cape Canaveral. After Congress, Nelson briefly became an astronaut.
A number of other Democrats are also mentioned in connection with the race, including Rep. Robert Wexler, a House Judiciary Committee member, former state legislator and 1998 lieutenant governor nominee Rick Dentzler, and state Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Wexler represents a portion of Broward and Palm Beach counties, including fashionable Boca Raton.
On the GOP side, Rep. Bill McCollum and Rep. Mark Foley are headed for the primary, but they could be joined by others.
McCollum, first elected to Congress in 1980, represents part of Orlando and was one of the House impeachment managers. He has flirted before with statewide races and has made no secret of his interest in the Senate.
Foley, who served in the state Legislature before winning a seat in Congress in 1994, represents much of Palm Beach County, as well as part of Central Florida and a sliver of St. Lucie County. He has over $1 million in the bank that he could use for a Senate bid.
A long list of Republicans are also mentioned as potential hopefuls. The list includes 1998 Senate nominee Charlie Crist, state Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher, Rep. Joe Scarborough, Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and Rep. Cliff Stearns, who represents part of North-Central Florida, including part of Jacksonville. Gallagher, who served as state Insurance commissioner, came in third (drawing 13 percent) in the 1994 GOP gubernatorial primary.
Republican McCollum is more conservative, confrontational and stiff than the energetic, upbeat Foley. Democrat Deutsch, though a supporter of balanced budget and term limits Constitutional amendments, is a liberal, while Nelson, who is better known statewide, is more moderate.
Some Democratic insiders are already wondering whether a liberal Jewish Democrat who represents Southeast Florida can win statewide. Republican observers, on the other hand, are wondering whether McCollum will be helped in the primary by his impeachment activities, and whether he can win a general election.
Clearly, Mack's seat will be up-for-grabs, and the outcome of the primaries could well depend on the make-up of the Republican and Democratic fields. This will be an expensive race, and both parties must worry about internal divisions that could hang around until Election Day.
Republican strategists have long been worried about Sen. Spencer Abraham's first re-election bid in 2000.
Michigan is a politically competitive state, and Abraham lacks charisma. Even GOP insiders aren't sure whether his 1994 election was a sign of his political savvy and appeal, or merely a result of a strong national Republican wave.
But regardless of the answer to that question, the Democrats can't beat the senator unless they have a strong nominee of their own next year. They don't have that candidate yet, but it now looks as if they will, sooner rather than later.
While former governor Jim Blanchard has announced that he won't run and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer seems uninterested in taking on Abraham, Rep. Debbie Stabenow looks very interested in the Senate contest.
Stabenow, who represents an area in southern Michigan that includes state capital Lansing, was a county commissioner who served in both houses of the state Legislature. She also was her party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994.
Stabenow is energetic and upbeat, and a Marketing Resource Group poll for Bill Ballenger's newsletter "Inside Michigan Politics" shows her leading Abraham 45 percent to 39 percent. She is Abraham's worst nightmare - almost certainly a tougher opponent than either Blanchard or Archer.
Tuesday, March 16, 1999
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