By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
AP Political Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A former U.S. senator is zeroing in on decades-old altercations involving U.S Rep. Connie Mack IV to make the case that Mack shouldn't become the Republican party nominee in this year's Florida Senate contest.
Former Sen. George LeMieux, Mack's primary opponent, is depicting the altercations as part of a pattern of irresponsible behavior that shows the 44-year-old congressman doesn't have the temperament to serve as a senator.
Mack and his campaign have chalked up the string of altercations, the last of which occurred two decades ago, to him being "young and foolish." They include two road rage incidents, an arrest at a Jacksonville bar and a bar fight with a Major League Baseball star.
However, court records reveal that Mack explained each incident the same way: He was minding his own business, sober and trouble found him. While suing former Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant, with whom he got in a bar fight in the early 1990s, Mack told lawyers that he was the victim and he didn't instigate anything during any of the incidents.
"So you were just again the unlucky guy in the wrong place at the wrong time?" a lawyer asked him during a deposition after Mack answered questions about each of the altercations.
"I guess so," Mack responded.
Mack's campaign says the focus should now be on issues and Mack's congressional record, not on incidents from 20 to 25 years ago. The GOP primary is Aug. 14, and the winner will face U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.
Mack, a conservative who is the great-grandson of Baseball Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack, was first elected to Congress from Southwest Florida in 2004. LeMieux, a former chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist, served 16 months in the Senate after being appointed by Crist to complete the term of former Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. That Senate seat is now held by Republican Marco Rubio, who defeated Crist and a Democrat in a three-way contest last year.
The altercations were used against Mack when he first ran for the House in a firmly Republican district. Badly trailing Mack in polls, LeMieux recently revived them and even likened Mack to actor Charlie Sheen.
"I don't know that it really will make that big of a difference," said Susan Moore, chairwoman of the Escambia County Republican Party. "Hopefully people have the capability of realizing we don't always make great decisions, but that doesn't mean we're not qualified to seek political office and move on. It might be different if it was something he did two weeks ago."
Mack broke his ankle during the fight with Gant and later sued the baseball star and Calico Jack's, the now-closed Atlanta bar where the fight took place. Like LeMieux is doing now, Gant's and the bar's lawyers at the time tried depicting Mack as having a habit of getting into fights. A jury ruled in favor of Mack, but awarded him no damages or legal fees.
Mack's campaign said he won't discuss the incidents with The Associated Press, saying he has already answered questions about them. But here's how Mack explained each incident during a deposition taken four years after the fight with Gant:
_ Sometime around 1987 when Mack was in college, he was driving and stopped at a drawbridge with friends in Palm Beach County. One of his friends was screaming to mimic comedian Howie Mandel, which apparently upset the driver in the vehicle next to them. When the man approached Mack's car, Mack got out and the man jumped on him. The two wrestled, struck each other and when the drawbridge went back down, Mack got back in his car and drove off.
_ Within the next year, Mack's girlfriend was driving his car when a driver forced her off the road. Both cars stopped and Mack got out. The other driver tried to punch Mack, so Mack punched him. The driver went back to his car, grabbed a baseball bat and chased Mack around the car and smashed its windows.
_ In 1989, Mack and two friends were at a Jacksonville nightclub and Mack had nothing to drink. A bouncer asked the three men to leave because one of Mack's friends was violating the club's no-hats policy. Mack asked to speak to the manager and questioned why they had to leave. The manager didn't have time to talk with him and asked an off-duty sheriff's deputy to escort them out of the club. Mack never resisted, never cursed, yet was still arrested. Mack pleaded no contest to resisting an officer without violence, and the case was later expunged.