Mack: Help and hindrance from a known family name

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Connie Mack IV, the son of the eponymous former Florida senator and the Republican candidate to replace former Rep. Porter Goss in southwest Florida’s 14th district, has borrowed a few chapters from President Bush’s political playbook.

When asked about his misspent youth — the seven years it took him to finish college or the series of publicized barroom brawls, including one with former Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant that landed both in a Georgia courtroom — Mack, 37, draws on Bush’s famous tautology: “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.”
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Connie Mack IV

Like Bush, Mack is the scion of a powerful family and enjoyed a leg up from his father’s name and connections, helping him overcome an undistinguished past.

Mack vastly outspent his rivals in the primary race and is now favored to join the 109th Congress.

Political experts say that being a political legacy cuts both ways. “You get name recognition and a fundraising advantage, [but] you also are always having to prove yourself, that you’re not your father or mother, that you have your own agenda and are your own person,” said Matt Corrigan, a political science professor at the University of North Florida.

“The general history for dynasts is that it’s worth one step up on the political ladder. Sometimes that’s the city council … sometimes Congress.” said Stephen Hess, an expert in political campaigns at the Brookings Institution. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s two sons were elected to the House, but both were defeated when they sought statewide office. “The Moral of story is once you’re there, you’re on your own.”

So far this cycle, Democrats have had more success with legacies. Dan Boren, son of former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.); Russ Carnahan, son of former Sen. Jean Carnahan and late Gov. Mel Carnahan, both Missouri Democrats, and Dan Lipinski, son of Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.), all look poised to win House seats next week.

Meanwhile, Republicans have fared worse. Brad Smith, son of Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), lost an August primary. The son of former Sen. Jim Broyhill (R), Ed Broyhill, lost in an upset in July. And Billy Tauzin III (R), son of the former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, faces a tough race in Louisiana.

In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) must overcome concerns about nepotism if she is to win her seat back. The senator was appointed to her post by her father, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Yet “Little Connie,” as Mack was once known around his father’s Capitol Hill office, may well buck this year’s trend. After a bruising primary, he is likely to top Democrat Robert Neeld in the conservative 14th District. At an early-voting center in Fort Myers on Monday, several registered Democrats reported having voted for Mack.

The younger Mack grew up in the 14th District, which includes Fort Myers and affluent Naples on the Gulf Coast. After college, he founded a marketing firm, LTP Management, whose clients included Hooters restaurants.

He is shorter than his father and stockier, but his conservative ideology is much the same. “The difference is the times,” he said, referring to the challenges of Sept. 11 and the economy.

In 2000, he caught the political bug and won a seat representing Fort Lauderdale in the state Legislature, where he became a leader of conservatives.

When Goss’s seat opened up on the western side of the state, he moved back to Ft. Myers, prompting complaints of carpet bagging from his Republican primary opponents, who also fired charges that he was trading on his family name. Aside from his senator father, Mack’s great-grandfather was a Hall of Fame manager for the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team.

“When my father first ran, he faced the same questions,” the younger Mack said. “He was the grandson of the legendary Connie Mack, and people wondered whether he was capable, whether he was just an empty suit. I think at the end of the day he proved them wrong.”

Neeld, an accountant who does the taxes of Mack’s aunt and uncle, noted the clout of the Connie Mack name. “[Mack] has the million-dollar name, the million-dollar smile and the million dollars,” said Neeld, who has raised $23,000 to Mack’s $1.7 million.

“He’s an attractive young man who has everything going for him. That doesn’t make him a bad guy; he’s an enormously lucky guy.”

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