JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Among Republican Mitt Romney's most ardent Florida supporters, there are few who want to see him win the state — and win big — more than the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Connie Mack IV.
If President Barack Obama carries the state again, or even if Romney wins by a slim margin, Mack may well be out of a job. He now represents Southwest Florida in Congress.
Mack is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has a history of winning even when Republicans prevail in other top races.
Mack has been touring the state on a bus for two straight weeks, and at nearly every stop, he has a message for supporters: "If Mitt Romney wins, I win."
If Romney wins by a razor-thin margin, odds are that Nelson may win re-election. In 2000, Nelson beat Republican Bill McCollum by 284,000 votes even as Republican George W. Bush carried Florida by just 537. And in 2006, Nelson defeated Katherine Harris by 22 percentage points when Republican Charlie Crist won the governor's office by 7 percentage points.
And Nelson knows he can win if Obama doesn't.
"Often people will vote one way on a presidential election in Florida and they vote another way with regard to party. That's nothing new. That's been happening all my life," said Nelson, who was barely campaigning Saturday. His only public event was a news conference near his Orlando home to call on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to extend early voting. Scott has already said he won't extend early voting despite long lines at the polls.
After a bruising GOP primary fight, Mack has sought to reach Florida voters with fewer resources than Nelson. But his efforts have been overshadowed by a close presidential contest in the Sunshine State.
"If Romney comes in big, Mack's going to win in an upset. If he doesn't turn out real big, he's a risk," said Republican state Rep. Dennis Baxley. "You can't question that Nelson's built that moderate image, no matter how he votes. And he's likable — I like him."
Baxley said Mack has to get the message out that if people want Romney to be president, Mack will be the senator who supports the Republican presidential nominee's agenda. And, he said, voters should be told that Mack will be a senator who serves much like his father, Connie Mack III, whose former seat is now held by Nelson.
"If he can relate those things together — that he'll be there for Romney and that he's going to be like his dad — there's going to be a lot of commitment from Floridians who'll say, 'Hey, let's try it."
It's the reason why Mack has tied his campaign so closely to Romney's, both in his stump speech and in his scheduling. Mack tore up his Saturday plans to make sure he was with Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, at a rally in Panama City even though he was in the same area just two days earlier.
Earlier Saturday, Mack made a campaign stop at a Jacksonville pizza shop, where about 20 people waited to see him. In Panama City, a Panhandle City where Mack needs to run up strong numbers, he'll be in front of a couple of thousand voters at the Ryan rally.
"Anywhere we can go where we can get in front of people and make sure that when they vote for Romney/Ryan, that they vote for Mack, it's a good thing for us, so we're excited to be there with him," Mack said. "Romney's going to need another Republican senator from Florida that he can work with and count on. Nelson is not that guy."
Likewise, Mack changed his campaign plans on Sunday and Monday to make sure he could attend a Monday appearance with Romney in the Orlando area.
While Nelson has also campaigned with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden when they've appeared in Florida, he hasn't made every appearance. And he also plays down the connection his race has with the presidential race.
"People vote for their senator not because he's running around with the presidential candidate of either party," Nelson said. "They are very, very Floridian when they make up their mind about their senator."
AP writer Gary Fineout in Orlando contributed to this report.
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