CONNIE MACK, SON OF the former senator and the Republican congressman-elect from Florida's 14th district, has much in common with President Bush. Like Bush, Mack, comes from a family with a political tradition. And, again like Bush, Mack has a name and family connections that helped him surmount a reckless youth.
Mack is even given to quoting Bush, as Josephine Hearn pointed out in a recent profile in The Hill. The 37-year-old politician retreats from such subjects as his two road-rage incidents involving police, the series of much-publicized barroom brawls, including one involving former Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant, and the seven years it took him to finish a degree at the University of Florida, by paraphrasing Bush: "When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish."
Mack does appear to have grown up. When I meet him at a restaurant in Capitol Hill, he is all polish and professionalism. His priorities now, he says, are his family and his new job. No fisticuffs for him these days; he says he spends his discretionary time changing his kids' diapers.
Mack first entered office in 2000 when he won a seat in Florida's legislature representing Fort Lauderdale. In the statehouse, he became the deputy majority leader for the Republicans and formed the Freedom Caucus to push for lower spending and lower taxes. Florida doesn't have a state income tax, but Mack says "any time the government puts its hands in your wallet, whether it be for a fee, a surcharge, a licensing registration, it's a tax." One of his proudest accomplishments as a state legislator was pushing through tort reform that limits what trial lawyers can take from jury awards.
Mack resigned his seat last year, and moved to Fort Myers in Lee County to run for Porter Goss's open seat. The primary was nasty. His three opponents accused him of being a lightweight, a carpetbagger, and of trading on his father's name. Mack responded to the carpetbagger charge by pointing out that he was the only candidate in the race who was born and raised in the 14th District.
He also had to contend with a hostile press. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune endorsed an opponent, writing, "Even though, as the Palm Beach Post put it, 'Running against a Connie Mack in Lee County is like running against a Kennedy in Boston.' . . . Frankly, without his father's name and a campaign organization bought with money donated by his father's supporters, we doubt Mack would be a serious contender."
Mack says that when his father first ran for Congress in 1981, the older Mack was accused of trading on the name of his great-grandfather, baseball Hall of Famer and former owner of the Philadelphia Athletics Cornelius McGillicuddy, the original Connie Mack. (The onetime player's name was abbreviated, the story goes, to fit on scoreboards. Both his grandson and his great-grandson continue to use the nickname, however, while their legal names remain Cornelius McGillicuddy.) "People wondered if my father was an empty suit," Mack says. "He proved them wrong."
Yet the name helped, as Mack admits, and his family connections also helped. Mack raised $1.4 million for the race, two times as much as his closest challenger, and enough to flood southwest Florida with television ads.
But the incoming congressman insists it was gritty, old-fashioned campaign work that made the difference. "We ran a grassroots campaign. We knocked on doors, went to meet-and-greets, and attended every forum there was during the campaign." He won 36 percent of the vote, edging out his nearest rival by 4 percentage points, thus ensuring his November win in the heavily Republican 14th district.
An Irish-Catholic, Mack opposes abortion and gay marriage, but breaks with the president on federal funding for stem cell research and importing drugs from Canada--a major issue in his district, with the third highest percentage of senior citizens out of all 435 districts.
Mack has met with House leadership to discuss his agenda and is looking to sit on the science, budget, international relations, financial services, and transportation committees, where he hopes to do something about traffic congestion on I-75.
He has also met the president, with the rest of the freshman class during orientation week. "He's funny, gracious, and determined," Mack says. "He has plans for real reform." But the two men had crossed paths before, when the president was campaigning in Florida. Addressing a rally in Fort Myers, Bush drew his own comparison with the young pol. "I am proud that [Connie Mack] is running for Congress. There's nothing wrong with a son following in a father's footsteps."
Rachel DiCarlo is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.