Republican U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack began the first of a weeklong bus tour Saturday, stoking the college crowds at tailgate events starting in Gainesville, where the the candidate's Gators were playing the Kentucky Wildcats and ending in Tallahassee, where the Seminoles play the Clemson Tigers.
The trip is one of three bus tours the campaign plans in an attempt to drum up support from Republican-leaning conservative counties of North and Central Florida, the one region of the state where polls show Mack leading Democrat incumbent, Bill Nelson.
In Tallahassee, Mack stopped at the Romney/Ryan tent at Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday evening, where Josh Romney was the celebrity of the moment. With a loudspeaker blaring excerpts from his Dad's stump speech, Josh stood for an hour mugging for photos with co-eds and fans dressed in garnet and gold.
Mack dismissed the recent polls, including a poll by the Herald/Times, which show him trailing Nelson by between 8 and 14 percentage points. He said his internal polls show the race much closer.
Mack, who refused to debate Weldon and other primary challengers, has now found himself on the defensive in his attempts to get Nelson to agree to more than one debate.
"I'm sure he's going: 'ah, I've got a lot of money in the bank and some of the polling shows me up and I don't want to make a mistake,'' he said. "I think the people of the State of Florida say, we want to know what the differences are all about and a debate is the way to do it."
He says that Nelson shouldn't treat him as Mack treated his opponents in the primary because "we're in a much more competitive race." In the summer, Mack's competitors, he said were "35 points behind us."
Photos: Connie Mack stops to take photo with Lexie Langley, 11, of Tallahassee; Josh Romney poses with FSU co-eds