A main consideration of conservative voters in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate should be to identify the strongest challenger to incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in November. That candidate unquestionably is U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV.
He is the son of popular former Sen. Connie Mack III and great-grandson of the original Connie Mack, the Hall of Fame baseball manager.
Mack introduced bills to repeal President Obama's health care law and to eliminate the capital gains tax. His conservative credentials are genuine.
His signature plan is a budget-cutting proposal that would have Congress commit to cutting the federal budget one percent a year. It's a plan easier said than done, and it doesn't explain how to cover the increasing costs of baby boomers' retirement. But it does lay out the challenge in understandable terms and sets a clear goal.
Mack's idea is better than pretending the national debt can continue to grow rapidly without adverse consequences for jobs, interest rates, inflation and the very programs that heavy borrowing now supports.
Mack votes consistently Republican when in Washington, which during the campaign has been seldom enough to draw criticism from opponents.
Mack also loses points for refusing to debate his Republican rivals, but that's no doubt because they haven't rallied enough support for him to see any of them as a serious challenge.
His strongest opponent is former Congressman Dave Weldon.
Weldon, a physician, calls himself an "authentic conservative" who is opposed to tax increases. He served seven terms in the House, where he was a principled and unwavering defender of the unborn.
He dislikes Obamacare and would replace it with tax credits that encourage those with low incomes to buy health insurance on the private market.
Weldon says autism has become an epidemic and is pushing for more research. He is a sincere, experienced candidate who comes across best in small groups.
The other two GOP candidates are less experienced.
Retired Army Col. Mike McCalister favors a more secure border, strong military, low taxes, more jobs and smaller government.
Marielena Stuart is an outspoken social conservative who says the country is being destroyed by socialist elites, which includes some Republicans.
The engaging, quick-witted Mack clearly is the superior candidate in the field.
He is not, to be sure, a perfect candidate. His youthful conduct was not always exemplary. His campaign has made a few slips, including a mailer sent mistakenly at taxpayers' expense and clothes improperly billed to the campaign. Both errors were corrected.
He has taken some jabs for his marriage to California Rep. Mary Bono, who won the seat of her former husband, rock star Sonny Bono, after he died in a skiing accident in 1998.
It is disappointing Mack recently softened his earlier opposition to drilling off Florida's shores. He knows allowing the rigs too close poses a threat to our beaches.
In his support of federally funded research on red tide, Mack said insightfully that "a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand-in-hand."
But no candidate is flawless, and Mack's core message is strong. He consistently supports low taxes, less spending and market competition. In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the Tribune endorses Rep. Connie Mack IV.
In the Democratic primary, Sen. Bill Nelson is being challenged by Glenn Burkett, who runs a natural health business.
Burkett, a Vietnam veteran, describes himself as a hybrid Democrat. He promises to use donations to his campaign to feed the hungry, not put up signs or buy ads.
Needless to say, he is not a career politician, nor has he any hope of winning.
Nelson has been a strong defender of NASA spending in Florida. He favors simplifying the tax code. He supported President Obama's health care law and now says he would improve it, not repeal it.
Nelson sponsored the imaginative Taxpayer Receipt Act, is a committed defender of Florida's coast, supports consumer protections and is accessible.
In the Democratic primary, the Tribune endorses Sen. Bill Nelson.