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Florida Senator Bill Nelson projected to win third term

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Incumbent Florida Senator Bill Nelson easily held off a challenge on Tuesday from Republican Connie Mack IV to win his third term, according to projections by TV networks.

Unofficial results from the Florida Division of Elections showed Nelson leading Mack by 55 percent to 42 percent.

The race between Mack, 45, and Nelson, 70, was largely conducted over the airwaves with a succession of negative campaign ads, including one by Mack that featured singing cows on a Nelson ranch.

A two-term Senator born in Miami and with roots in the north Florida Panhandle, Nelson enjoys statewide support, including south Florida's large Cuban American community who are grateful for his tough line against communist rule in Cuba.

"People want a bi-partisan consensus builder," Nelson told Reuters at a victory party in Orlando. "We have a lot to do now. We have to bring this country together."

Asked what his first order of business will be, Nelson said: "to put together a reasonable common sense budget that will start to bring the deficit down over time."

Mack, a four-term congressman, ran a traditional Republican campaign around the themes of reduced taxes and a more forceful foreign policy, accusing Nelson of being a "lockstep liberal" in line with President Barack Obama.

Despite his pedigree, the son of a former two-term senator, Connie Mack III, and the husband of California congresswoman Mary Bono, the widow of Sonny Bono, the 1970s pop singer, Mack's campaign failed to ignite Republican enthusiasm, even among party activists.

Polls showed Mack trailing during most of the campaign, with only small crowds at speaking events.

Mack highlighted Nelson's support for the Affordable Healthcare Act, also known as 'Obamacare,' as well as his record on taxes.

In their one debate, Mack attacked Nelson's plan to balance the budget by closing tax loopholes, accusing him of keeping 4 cows on a family ranch as a tax dodge to benefit from lower rates for agricultural land.

"There have been cows on that property for 60 years," Nelson countered.

Nelson battered Mack's poor attendance record in Congress this year and as well as accusing him of support for a bill that would have redefined rape as "forcible rape."

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)