Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will face Republican U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV after both easily won their Florida primary elections on Tuesday.
Nelson was winning almost 80 percent with two-thirds of the vote counted, while Mack had almost 60 percent in the GOP race.
"We won the primary," Mack said to cheers shortly after 8 p.m. at a small gathering in Coral Gables that included his wife, California Rep. Mary Bono Mack, and his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III.
Mack will try to win back the seat his father once held. Nelson won the seat in 2000 after the elder Mack retired. Both Nelson and the younger Mack have already been preparing for a head-to-head matchup after facing weak primary opposition.
"It's a good night. This is just the beginning," Mack said before announcing the news to the crowd. "This is really where the campaign starts, where we have to bring everybody together and work as one team, make sure we have the resources and the people to get out the vote, and with Mitt Romney on the top of the ticket, it's going to help us do that."
Mack, buoyed by the famous name he shares with his great-grandfather, the Hall of Fame baseball manager, was immediately the favorite to win the nomination when he entered the GOP race in November. Three other candidates dropped out ahead of the election, leaving former Rep. Dave Weldon as the best-known candidate to challenge him. But Weldon jumped in just three months before the primary, leaving him little time to build a campaign in a state with more than 4 million registered Republicans.
Nelson has already hit Mack with a negative ad that points out trouble Mack got into in his 20s including a bar fight, an arrest and road-rage incidents. It's an attack used repeatedly by former Sen. George LeMiuex before he dropped out of the primary race.
Months before Mack got in the race, he was attacking Nelson with web videos and through political emails, calling him a "lockstep liberal" who supports President Barack Obama's major policies, including the health care overhaul. Mack has also criticized Nelson for trying to make the campaign about "what I did as a kid" and the work he did for a company that did promotions for Hooters restaurants instead of talking about the economy and the federal deficit.
Nelson was at his Orlando campaign headquarters when the race was called.
"My opponent wants to change Medicare as we know it and turn it over to insurance companies. And I don't think senior citizens want to haggle with insurance companies," Nelson said. "And, he also wants to change Social Security by privatizing it, which would risk seniors' retirement in the volatile stock market. So there's a pretty clear choice in this election."