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WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 23:  U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) listens during a mark up hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill September 23, 2009 in Washington, DC. Members of the committee continued to work on their version of the legislation for healthcare reform.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
In my last FL-Gov diary, I mentioned that Senator Bill Nelson (D. FL) isn't interested in running against Governor Rick Scott (R. FL) next year.  Well looks like he's having a change of heart:

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited the construction site of the new Florida Hospital SunRail transit station to highlight the significant economic impact that investments in public transportation can create in Central Florida and in cities and towns across
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is taking steps to run for governor if former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) stumbles, according to a report.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the senator's chief-of-staff has called "prominent Democrats" recently and said that Nelson was mulling a run for governor.

It's the latest sign that Nelson, who has been quiet about a possible gubernatorial run, wasn't completely shooting down the possibility, even with most Democrats coalescing around Crist.

Nelson has publicly denied that he was running for governor. In an interview with MSNBC in April, Nelson said he had no plans to seek the Florida governor's mansion. - TPM, 11/15/13

Personally, I can't say I'm crazy about this idea.  I think Charlie Crist (D. FL) is our best choice despite the party switch.  But one has to wonder if Nelson would be a stronger candidate against Scott than Crist:

Nelson is currently the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida and looking at his victory over Republican challenger Connie Mack in 2012 shows why he is a major threat to defeat Scott. Republicans and conservatives are grumbling now that Mack was an underwhelming candidate who coasted through a primary and relied on his father’s name, leaving him unprepared for a general election. What’s forgotten is that national Republicans and conservatives targeted Nelson as they looked to pick up the Senate in 2012 and showcased Mack. A favorite of Sean Hannity from Fox News and the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mack had more than his share of chances to shine in the political limelight. As a close ally of Mitt Romney, Mack’s team also worked closely with the Republican presidential campaign effort.

It didn’t matter. While Barack Obama edged Romney to win Florida’s Electoral College votes, Nelson routed Mack in a landslide, taking 55 percent while the Republican trailed badly with 42 percent.

As he has shown throughout his political career, Nelson does well in places where no other Democrat in Florida can compete. Counties that backed Rick Scott and Romney, like Brevard and Duval, went for Nelson. Looking at the map, it’s impressive how, in 2012, Nelson carried other counties all across the state that Scott won in 2010 -- Flagler, Hamilton, Hendry, Hernando, Monroe, Okeechobee, Pasco, Polk, Seminole and Volusia. In counties that Scott and Mack took, Nelson generally did better than Sink. Nelson also outperformed Sink in some of the most populous counties -- Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange -- in the state, which puts him in good shape if he challenges Scott next year.

After 40 years of interacting with voters, Nelson is easily a much better candidate for Democrats than Crist. Nelson is not marred by switching parties and positions the way Crist is. While generally seen as bland, which has helped prevent him from achieving the stature of his old rival Chiles or Bob Graham, Nelson is also seen as a centrist. This puts him in play in areas where no other Democrats can do well. If a Democrat beats out or comes close to edging Scott in Duval, Marion or Polk counties, the governor is left with little in the way of a path to victory. Nelson has proven he can win there and in other parts of the state Republicans usually take for granted.

But if Scott has much to fear from a Nelson candidacy, Crist has even more to lose. Sure, Democrats cheered Crist’s entrance into the race but, right now, their only other option is Nan Rich. Plenty of Democrats are only backing Crist as the best option for winning their first gubernatorial race in 20 years. But Nelson’s the best horse in the Democratic stable in Florida. If Nelson gets in, Democrats wanting a winner will ditch the Crist bandwagon in droves. - Sunshine State News, 11/15/13

However, history is not on Nelson's side:

The 71 year old would be Florida’s oldest governor if elected. It’s also unclear what kind of national political environment Nelson would face next year. If President Obama’s approval rating continues to sink, it could hurt Nelson’s chances: his opposition would tie him to the failures surrounding the roll out of the healthcare website.

History has a way of repeating itself. Nearly twenty five years ago, the 47-year-old Nelson launched a campaign to unseat the vulnerable Republican incumbent Gov. Bob Martinez. Nelson was seen as a sure bet to win the nomination and locked up early support among state party officials and the donors.  But as Martinez’s numbers rebounded and he expanded his war chest, Democrats became nervous. A year into Nelson’s quest, former Sen. Lawton Chiles came out of retirement, and jumped into the primary race against  Nelson.

Chiles ended up thumping Nelson by over 30 points and went on to defeat the incumbent Martinez after one of the most brutal and ugly primaries Floridians had ever witnessed.

“Bill Nelson cares too deeply about Florida to jeopardize Democrats chances to defeat Rick Scott in 2014 by getting into a primary fight,” said one national Democrat.

“Senator Nelson is in the same position Senator Chiles was in in 1990,” said Graham.  “I don’t know what Bill’s decision will be, but it will certainly be another interesting year in Florida politics,” he said. - MSNBC, 11/12/13

And would Nelson's entrance further divide Florida Democrats:

Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, speaks during the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on Cruise Industry Oversight March 1, 2012 at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Florida Democrats are split into two camps, said former Florida Democratic Party executive director Screven Watson. “Gung-ho, damn-the-torpedoes” fans like former FDP Chairman Bob Poe have lined up with Crist, while others, like former FDP Chairman Rod Smith, are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to the newly-minted Democrat. Some close to Nelson say it is the latter group who are urging Nelson to enter the race.

“I have said since last summer that Bill Nelson is saying ‘no,’ but he hasn’t said, ‘hell, no,’” Watson said. “If Charlie Crist stubs his toe, if he shows any weakness, [Nelson supporters] are going to pounce, and that pounce would be to fly to Washington to talk Bill Nelson into running.”

In an interview Wednesday, Smith said Nelson would be a strong contender.

“He’s a known commodity, both to the party and to the people of Florida. … Bill has a sense of Florida and where Florida is politically. He would be a formidable candidate,” Smith said.

Mitchell did not return calls seeking comment. In an interview last week with a Gannett Washington correspondent, Nelson repeated well-worn statements brushing off — but not denying — rumors about a candidacy.

“I’m not going to say anything,” Nelson said. “I will support the Democratic nominee.” - CBS Miami, 11/14/13

Plus Nelson's donors could be holding Crist back from raising even more money with this speculation about a Nelson run:

Former Gov. Charlie Crist still has a Midas touch for fundraising even though he's in his second political party (now a Democrat after being an independent and a Republican), having pulled in $812,000 $872,000 between  Nov. 4 and Nov. 16.**

Caveats: It's soft money (i.e., limitless un-capped cash one can raise from a donor or a few donors) contributed to his committee, Charlie Crist for Florida. The campaign "hard" money has yet to be reported. And Gov. Rick Scott is still the soft-money king and plans to have as much as $100 million to spend. Crist hopes to have at least half of that amount.

Also, it will be tough for Crist to keep pace. He's not a current office holder, so he lacks that leverage. And now some people affiliated with Sen. Bill Nelson are trying to keep the door open for the senior Democrat (who has told time and again that he doesn't want to run and doesn't intend to), but in doing so, the Nelsonites run the risk of freezing some Florida and DC donations to Crist, the Democrats' frontrunner. - Miami Herald, 11/15/13

It remains to be seen but the ball is in Nelson's court.  Primaries are important to the process, there's no doubt about that.  But we have an amazing shot at defeating Scott next year and I just don't want a nasty primary to cost us this election.  Grant it, Democratic voters have gotten a lot better getting behind their candidates and uniting in their hatred towards Tea Party lunatics like Scott.  But with Scott pledging to spend big, we will need all the resources to defeat Scott and primary could be costly.  We'll have to wait and see.

Originally posted to pdc on Fri Nov 15, 2013 at 02:00 PM PST.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party and DKos Florida.


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