When Connie Mack declared that he would run for one of Florida’s Senate seats last November, he sprinted out to an early lead in the GOP primary against (what seemed like) four guys named Joe. Time flies. Connie Mack now finds himself locked in a tightening race against a guy named George LeMieux.
Mack brings impressive assets to the campaign. Thanks to his father of the same legal name, Cornelius McGillicuddy, Mack inherits a strong brand in state politics (he and his father are direct descendants of the longtime baseball player and manager of the same name). He projects an attractive media presence, and he sports a 30-point lead in the polls, which lends his candidacy a tinge of inevitability. But he has not prospered in the role of front-runner. With nothing but time on their hands before the August primary, reporters and inquisitive partisans have begun to pick through Mack’s record, and some of it, as they say here in north Florida, ain’t purdy.
First, there’s the home life. In 2005, Mack, then married with two children, went to Congress. By 2007 he had divorced his wife and married his House colleague Mary Bono, the widow of the unforgettable pop singer and easily forgettable congressman Sonny Bono. The romantic tale of Connie and Mary has several versions, none of them reflecting well on a champion of family values. Mack may have some “’splainin’” to do.
Then there’s the nightlife. According to police reports, Mack has been active after hours — drinking bouts, scrapes with fellow motorists, altercations of a non-senatorial sort, including a now-legendary 1992 bar fight at Calico Jack’s in Atlanta. Give Mack his due. He wasn’t beating up on some balding accountant from Gainesville. According to court documents, Mack duked it out with Ron Gant, the power-hitting left fielder for the Atlanta Braves. Witnesses say that it was Mack who threw the first punch, lending credibility to the disputed testimony of a waitress who said that Mack had been “drinking beer and Jägermeister shots all night.” As a taproom observer of long experience, I side with the waitress. Nobody in his right mind would take a swing at the imposing Mr. Gant. (For those of you keeping score at home, Gant made short work of Mack, breaking his ankle and subduing him in a headlock. There is no shame in that for Mack, but he then lost face with barroom brawlers everywhere by “grabbing the ballplayer’s crotch.”)
And finally, the work life. When he was not all that young and irresponsible, Mack took the scenic, John Belushi route through college — seven-plus years to a B.S. degree from the University of Florida. As for professional work in the private sector, about which Mack speaks with such fervor and apparent authority? His critics say there’s only one recorded instance of Mack holding a non-government job, and that was his tenure as an “event planner” for Hooters. Mack, perhaps prudently, has declined to provide details. Well, how about vineyard labor for the grand old party that has handed him one job after another? If there’s a media opportunity, it is assumed Mack is there: He practically Velcroed himself to Mitt Romney along the campaign trail this winter. But party gatherings, county dinners, Lincoln Day events? Not so much, say GOP officials. When constituents demand that he spend more time back in the district, they’re careful to specify that they mean his, not his wife’s, which is 3,000 miles away in Palm Springs.
Mack’s overall record, in a comparison that is both grossly unfair and reverberatingly memorable, has been summed up by George LeMieux this way: Connie Mack is the “Charlie Sheen of Florida politics.”