George LeMieux fired the first broadcast shot in the U.S. Senate race Wednesday, a blistering radio ad attacking his opponent in the Republican primary, Connie Mack IV.
But on the same day, a poll showed Mack moving to a lead over the Democratic incumbent they both hope to run against, Sen. Bill Nelson.
It showed Mack leading Nelson 43 percent to 36 percent with 16 percent undecided in the race, positive movement for Mack, who tied with Nelson in a Rasmussen poll a month ago.
Matched against LeMieux, Nelson won 41 percent to 38 percent, a margin smaller than the poll's 4.5 percentage point margin of error. Nelson led the third best-known Republican candidate, Mike McCalister, 42 percent to 38 percent.
The March 13 Rasmussen poll included 500 likely voters in Florida and used automated dialing.
Nelson campaign spokesman Christian Robinson dismissed the poll. "Bill's busy doing his job. The only poll that's going to count is on Election Day, and certainly not a robo-poll seven months before the election."
Meanwhile, a conservative interest group, the 60 Plus Association, launched a $3.5 million television ad campaign targeting Nelson and four other senators in an attack on President Barack Obama's national health care reform initiative, the Affordable Care Act.
The ad, with Pat Boone narrating, says the plan includes "a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats" who "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments."
That charge, concerning Medicare's Independent Payment Advisory Board, is false, according to the nonpartisan Factcheck.org, which also described what it called other inaccuracies and distortions in the ad.
Gerry Scimeca of 60 Plus acknowledged that the board is prohibited by law from "rationing" and that its decisions are only advisory for Congress, but said, "The reality is that when you cut fees and services you're forced to ration."
Scimeca said the organization, which calls itself "the conservative alternative to the liberal AARP," will spend $1.1 million airing the ad in Florida.
LeMieux's ad hits Mack on a smorgasbord of charges based on recent news coverage of financial and other problems from Mack's past: a history of bar brawls and road-rage incidents when Mack was in his 20s; financial problems including debts and liens prior to his marriage to U.S. Rep. Mary Bono of California; and questionable dual homestead exemptions they hold on their respective homes in Palm Springs and Fort Myers.
Mack says the fighting incidents were a part of his youth, the financial problems were related to his divorce, and the exemptions are legal.
The LeMieux campaign wouldn't say how big the ad buy is, but said it's running statewide. It is linked to an unusually harsh, early attack including a campaign video and news conference in which LeMieux calls Mack "the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics."
Asked why he is starting his advertising on a negative note — unusual for a candidate who is not well-known and needs to introduce himself to voters — LeMieux said he thinks much of Mack's support is "a case of mistaken identity." He said voters are confusing Mack with his father, former senator and Republican elder statesman Connie Mack III.
"We're making sure Republican voters in Florida know this Mack is not his father and that he has serious problems that make him not only unfit for office but unelectable this fall," LeMieux said.
LeMieux's video refers to Mack, his father and his baseball icon great-grandfather, all with the same name, as "two and a half Macks."
Mack campaign manager Jeff Cohen called LeMieux's criticism "childish lies and insults," and said his "desperate, boorish and downright nasty campaign" is alienating voters, citing favorable and unfavorable ratings from the poll.
Voters "really just don't like the guy. It's hard to blame them," he said. "With his astonishingly negative and false attacks, George LeMieux's campaign has proven itself to be a sham."