By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — Wednesday’s debate between two lesser-known politicians seeking Florida’s U.S. Senate seat inevitably will play like a choppy rerun of Tuesday’s second presidential debate.
The Republican candidate will argue that taxes have become too burdensome, and the Democratic candidate will counter that his opponent is ready and willing to slash large amounts of federal spending on the back of desperate seniors.
The issue of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be the GOP candidate’s trump card for an interventionist government gone wild, and the Democrat will propose ending government’s malaise in the form of raising taxes on the rich.
These have been the main issues so far in the Senate campaign between U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-District 14, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, promulgated continuously through nearly weekly visits by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama.
“It’s a cookie-cutter campaign riding on the back of national campaigns,” said Frank Torres, Central Florida News 13’s political analyst in Orlando. “They’re just not customizing their message at all.”
Torres characterizes the only statewide race in Florida this season as a mediocre contest between two party standard-bearers who have struggled to define themselves.
“The outcome for the Senate race is basically just going to mimic the presidential election,” said Torres.
But for a state as diverse and idiosyncratic as Florida, it doesn’t have to be defined by the political issues emphasized in Washington, D.C.
With Florida having the largest immigrant population — one in five residents are foreign-born — Nelson and Mack could discuss approaches to accommodate the large undocumented population in Florida, something that is only addressed in federal debates through the lens of enforcement.
With a significant housing crisis still in full swing statewide, the Senate candidates could debate the role of the government in propping up mortgage-lending standards, and any changes needed to help families keep their homes. State Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, has been active in cracking down on banks, which have taken advantage of homeowners. Surely, she could lend a hand in moderating a few questions that have yet to be resolved at the federal level.
With a coastline just 90 miles away from Cuba, the candidates could debate what should be done about the 50-year-old economic embargo against the island nation, juxtaposed against America’s growing trade relationship with China, the largest socialist country in the world.
With rich potentials for oil drilling in the Everglades and off the Gulf Coast, Mack and Nelson should tell Floridians their plans for increasing or halting oil production — at least something that deviates from the party line.
However unique Florida may claim to be in this election, its Senate candidates have yet to make the case for why their particular message is the one to follow.
“Mack hasn’t been aggressive enough in his campaign. People want to know, does he really want it? What’s his real stance on the issues? He’s portrayed a real man’s man, someone who cheers for the Miami Dolphins,” said Torres.
“He has that quality, but he hasn’t done a good job of getting that personal touch in his campaign. This should be Connie Mack’s coming-out party for all the Florida voters.”
On the subject of Nelson, Torres contends that his quiet demeanor won’t be his most effective selling point for voters.
“People appreciate his sincerity, but they just don’t know who he is,” said Torres. “As far as the wow factor, he just doesn’t have it. He’s be piggybacking President Obama all the way to Election Day.”
If Mack and Nelson want to reignite an original national debate, devoid of focus group-tested talking points, then they should seek to craft an independent narrative that will set them, and their state, apart.
Contact Yaël Ossowski, Watchdog.org’s Florida bureau chief, at Yael@FloridaWatchdog.org.