Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack cruise to easy wins Tuesday in their respective primaries, setting up what will be a crucial matchup in November for the makeup of the U.S. Senate.
Nelson, seeking his third term, had only token opposition from little-known challenger Glenn Burkett, of Naples, and had already been focused on Mack, who has been the front-runner in the GOP primary for some time as well. With about 60 percent of the votes counted, Nelson had 80 percent of the vote over Burkett.
Mack, however, had better known opposition from within his own party, with former Congressman Dave Weldon, who jumped into the race late, drawing some more socially conservative voters away from Mack, who is generally seen as a particularly staunch fiscal conservative.
Mack still looked likely to win easily; with nearly 60 percent of the vote counted, he was leading Weldon 59 percent to 20 percent. Also in the Republican primary were retired military officer Mike McCalister, who had 14 percent and Marielena Stuart, who had 7 percent in early returns that were expected to hold up.
While Nelson, 69, is often thought of as a low-profile member of the Senate, Democrats have a four to six seat advantage in the chamber, depending on the votes of two independents, and the Florida race is one of several where Republicans have hopes of a pick-up that could flip control of the chamber.
Nelson was elected to the Senate in 2000, but has held some political office in Florida for 40 years.
Mack is the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, who was replaced by Nelson in the Senate when he retired in 2001. The younger Mack has been in Congress, representing southwest Florida since 2005.
Because of his name recognition – in addition to his politician father, Mack is the great grandson and namesake of Connie Mack I, the famous baseball manager - and with backing of some in the GOP establishment, Mack chased some other earlier GOP candidates out of the primary. George LeMieux, who held a Florida U.S. Senate seat briefly after former Sen. Mel Martinez stepped down early, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos dropped out earlier.