Florida Republican Senate race gets a bit edgier

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The stories provide ripe material for Mack's opponents, though his strong poll numbers have persuaded two of them (Adam Hasner and Craig Miller) to drop out to run for congressional seats that look more promising.

George LeMieux was always considered one of the more credible GOP candidates, pre-Mack. Now the former Charlie Crist ally believes the negative stories are creating an opening, and he called a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Tallahassee to discuss the latest reports against Mack.

In the Herald story written by Marc Caputo, Mack's vulnerabilities are contained in this graph:

Mack sometimes appeared to spend more than he earned, had property liens filed against him, overdrew his bank account and didn’t have enough money to pay his federal income taxes after his 2004 congressional election, according to court records from Fort Myers to Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale.

Ironically, Mack has been popping off a lot in the past week about another press report — this one by the Tampa Bay Times' Alex Leary, who revealed that Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has been enjoying a large tax break because he owns six cows.

Specifically, Nelson saved $43,000 in property taxes on the 55 acres that he owns on the Indian River because he claims the land is for agricultural use, allowing him to use the "greenbelt" tax shelter, which radically reduces the taxable value of the land in question.

Leary reported that the land has a full market value of $2.7 million, but the county tax collector uses the agricultural value of $210,000. That reduced Nelson's tax bill in 2011 to $3,696.

He also reported that in 1999, the agricultural classification was removed when an inspector from the property appraiser's office found no cattle, and thus his tax bill escalated to more than $26,000 from about $4,500. But Nelson fought hard, first going before a local board, where he lost, before going to court and winning back the exemption.

So what does this all mean? Well, for LeMieux and the other candidate in the race, Mike McCalister, the stories on Mack are the best things to happen to them since the Fort Myers Representative entered the race. A poll taken last month showed Mack dominating the race, taking 40 percent of the GOP race, with LeMieux a way-distant second at 8 percent. McCalister took 3 percent.

  • Connie Mack hasn't been getting great press of late

Republicans in Washington believe because of the number of vulnerable Democratic Senate seats up for election this November, they have a good chance of taking back the upper chamber, which has been in Democratic control for the past five years. The Dems currently maintain a 53-47 majority over their Republican counterparts, including two Independent Senators — Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman — who caucus with the Democratic party.

But the race in Florida for a contender to match up against a very vulnerable Bill Nelson has been a snoozer so far. It picked up some energy late last year when Fort Myers Congressman Connie Mack entered the contest and shot to the tops of the polls, due almost exclusively to his name (which is the same as his father, who served in the U.S. Senate representing Florida from 1988-2000).

But Mack looks a lot less formidable than he did just a few weeks ago, after the Miami Herald reported over the weekend on various debts and liens he still has.

And then the Tampa Tribune's William March came back with another story damaging to Mack's credibility — the fact that both Mack and and his wife, Mary Bono, claim homestead exemptions; Mack for his home in Fort Myers, Bono for her home in Palm Springs. They live together in Washington D.C., but Florida law says no more than one homestead exemption is allowed to any individual or "family unit," which means a married couple.

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