ORLANDO, Fla. – Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson easily won a third term on Tuesday, defeating Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, whose name recognition as the son of a well-liked former senator didn't pay off.
With 75 percent of the Florida's votes tallied by 9:30 p.m., Nelson had a 13 percent advantage over Mack.
Nelson was gracious in accepting victory.
"You must understand that Connie Mack is my opponent, not my enemy," Nelson told supporters. "What we do is come together after an election, bringing out the best of all of us and the best of our state and our country."
Mack appeared to be the victim in part of stronger than expected turnout by Democrats in Florida, but his candidacy never really got off the ground, even with many Republicans.
Nelson appeared to benefit from considerable ticket splitting with large numbers of Republicans who voted for Mitt Romney for president supporting Nelson instead of Mack. For example in Pasco County, where Romney appeared headed for a solid win, Nelson was ahead by about 20,000 votes with more than 80 percent of ballots counted.
Nelson was first elected to the Senate in 2000 in a race overshadowed by the presidential recount drama of that year, but has been in public office for much of the time since 1972 when he was elected to the state Legislature.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, hoping to hold on to the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate claimed victory in the race almost as soon as the polls closed. State Democrats did as well.
"He is a true champion for middle class families and a passionate advocate for our state," state Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said of Nelson. "He has delivered for the people of Florida, and tonight they have delivered him a decisive victory."
Mack got into the Senate race late, after party members complained that several candidates in the race didn't seem to be polling well against the popular Nelson. But Mack didn't take off either.
Mack did chase several Republicans from the race, including former state lawmaker Adam Hasner, who switched to a race for Congress, and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who dropped out.
Republicans had hoped Mack's name would make him more viable. Mack's father, Connie Mack, was a popular U.S. senator from the state. He also shares the name of his great-grandfather, who was a baseball manager for more than 50 years.
After his time in the state Legislature, Nelson was elected to Congress in 1978 and served six terms, representing the Orlando and Space Coast areas. As a result, Nelson was allowed to go into orbit on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986.
In 1994, Nelson was elected to the Cabinet as insurance commissioner, after an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1990, when he lost to Lawton Chiles in the primary.