Editor's note: Florida Baptist Witness has requested an interview with Connie Mack. As of July 30, the Mack campaign has failed to respond to three requests, starting on July 20.
Congressman Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, is the heavy favorite in the Aug. 14 Republican primary that has seen four prominent candidates leave the race (including former interim U.S. Senator George LeMieux who nevertheless remains on the ballot). Two other, lesser-known candidates are also on the ballot.
“I think it’s possible to close the gap. I really do,” Weldon said in a July 20 interview with Florida Baptist Witness. Mack has dominated the polling since entering the race late last year.
That gap? One recent poll has Mack leading Weldon, 55-17.
“It’s getting down to the wire,” Weldon conceded during the 20-minute interview before speaking at a Mount Dora rally.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too late,” he said, touting recent endorsements from the Tampa Bay Times – the state’s largest newspaper in circulation, Florida pro-family leader John Stemberger, and two leading pro-family state legislators – Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.
“The issue is really who can beat Bill Nelson,” Weldon said. “I think I’m the better candidate to go up against Bill Nelson – as a physician, as a veteran, as a 14-year congressman, and [as] somebody who can really mobilize social conservatives in this race.”
Weldon, who entered the race in May, says in contrast to Mack he was a leader on pro-family concerns in Congress. The two served together in the U.S. House of Representatives four years before Weldon stepped down in 2008 to return to his medical practice in Indialantic. Mack was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004.
“I got in because there wasn’t really a good social conservative in the race who could have a shot a winning,” Weldon explained, naming several former candidates he supported before they exited the race.
Weldon said Mack “never joined the [U.S. House of Representatives’] pro-life caucus. He never came to any of our meetings if we were meeting on any of the critical family issues – right-to-life issues, marriage issues. He was just a non-player. He wasn’t engaged on any of those issues.”
Further, Weldon criticized Mack’s support for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. “I think that’s a reflection of a person’s position on the sanctity of human life that he and I have a difference on those issues,” he said.
Given Mack’s record, Weldon said, “The voters needed a solid social conservative choice.”
Weldon said he authored the federal statute that protects doctors and nurses from being required to participate in abortions and sponsored legislation to ban human cloning that passed the House but never got a vote in the Senate.
Weldon also authored federal legislation that sought to protect Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who was at the center of a multi-year “right-to-die” controversy. Weldon’s legislation was unsuccessful and after other state legislative and judicial efforts failed, Schiavo’s feeding and hydration were removed, causing her death in 2005.
“I have a track record of fighting for social policies that are pro-family, rooted in faith,” he said.
Weldon said he opposes gay marriage and was an original co-sponsor of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in May. The Obama Administration’s Justice Department has declined to defend the statute in the courts.
As a medical doctor, Weldon said he “absolutely” supports a “complete repeal” of Obama’s healthcare reform law and expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the law.
“I think it’s unconstitutional in many of its features, particularly forcing religious institutions to fund services that run contrary to their core beliefs,” he said.
“The state of religious freedom [in America] is in jeopardy,” Weldon said, citing Obama’s healthcare reform law. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and GuideStone Financial Resources – the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral concerns and medical insurance entities, respectively – contend a provision mandating abortion and contraceptive coverage by certain religious organizations is a violation of religious liberty.
Weldon called the provision “the greatest infringement [on religious freedom] that we have possibly seen since the founding of our nation.”
Although a conservative Republican, Weldon said his congressional record demonstrates he can work with Democrats, citing as an example the cause of increasing funding for autism research.
Mack is favored to win, Weldon said, “because of his name ID” – the son of the former U.S. Senator Connie Mack III and great-grandson of baseball legend Connie Mack.
Weldon is critical of Mack’s unwillingness to debate his GOP primary opponents. Although Mack is leading in the polls, that he will not debate at all “betrays the fact that he’s just not a good debater,” Weldon said.
“He’s going to have to debate Bill Nelson,” he said. “But probably more significantly than that, if he wins and he goes to the United States Senate, how is he going to effectively represent our state. … He wants to represent the fourth-largest state in the union in the most deliberative body in the world – the United States Senate.”
Calling the Senate race “extremely critical,” Weldon said if the U.S. Senate remains under the control of Democrats even if Mitt Romney wins the White House, “it’s going to be very, very hard to really address a lot of the fundamental problems in our country today.”
Asked if he knew he would go to heaven when he died, Weldon told the Witness, “Oh, absolutely. I gave my life to Christ when I was 19 years old.” He added, “Actually, I’ve been through D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion course,” an evangelism teaching program used in many evangelical churches.
Asked the second EE diagnostic question, Weldon was familiar enough to begin to cite it himself, while allowing the reporter to finish it: “If you were to die today and God would say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you say?”
He answered, “It’s because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and not by my good works.”
Weldon said he’s not currently a member of a church, although he attends a non-denominational evangelical church. He admits, “We have floated around, you might say” since retiring from Congress in 2008. Weldon and his wife, Nancy, are parents to two children.
The Weldons were members of a Southern Baptist congregation in northern Virginia during his time in Congress, he said, adding he also enjoys attending Messianic Jewish congregations because of the insights offered about the Hebrew background of the church.
A native of Amityville, N.Y., Weldon served in the U.S. Army 1981-1987 and the Army Reserves 1987-1992.
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