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Florida GOP Nominates Rep. Mack for Senate; Democrats Face Runoff

Associated Press

Rep. Connie Mack defeated former U.S. Atty. Robert Merkle in Florida’s Republican Senate primary Tuesday, while Democrats sent state Insurance Commissioner Bill Gunter and Rep. Buddy MacKay into a runoff.

With a majority of the precincts reporting, Mack had 266,173 votes, or 61%, to Merkle’s 172,546 votes, or 39%.

Gunter, 54, who was an unsuccessful Senate nominee in 1980, topped a six-candidate field with 221,507 votes, or 36%, far short of the majority needed to avoid an Oct. 4 runoff. MacKay, 55, was second with 174,303 votes or 28%.

Mack, 47, had drawn campaign support from President Reagan and former National Security Council aide Oliver L. North. Merkle entered the race late, quitting his post after winning a conviction against Colombian cocaine kingpin Carlos Lehder Rivas.

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The combination of a strong victory by Mack and a divided Democratic Party were just what Republicans had hoped for as they sought to reclaim the seat that retiring Sen. Lawton Chiles has kept in the Democratic column for 18 years.

And the Democratic runoff seemed likely to be bitter and divisive indeed. During the campaign, MacKay accused Gunter of conflict of interest for accepting contributions from the industry he regulates, and his campaign manager, Greg Farmer, called Gunter’s 12 years in his current office “a saga of sleaze.” Gunter called MacKay hypocritical for accepting funds from political action committees that he said wanted to influence votes in “the ultimate regulatory body--Congress.”

Nevada also had primaries, with first-term Republican Sen. Chic Hecht facing only token opposition in his bid for renomination. His likely opponent, Democratic Gov. Richard H. Bryan, had three challengers, none of whom attracted significant support.

Bryan has been leading in polls pitting him against Hecht.

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