Bill Nelson is not stupid
Florida Senator Bill Nelson is leaving some of those who know him best mystified about his political future. Will he or won’t he run for governor.
“There are days when I think he’s ready to go,” said one Democrat who speaks regularly with Florida’s senior senator. This person would like to continue the relationship with Nelson and asked not to be named.
In conversations with several people who have spoken with Nelson, one thing is clear – it’s not clear what Nelson will do.
The consensus is that Nelson will run for governor if Charlie Crist falters. Perhaps the best evidence is his most recent public statement to Chuck Todd on Daily Rundown. Todd asked Nelson if he would make a Sherman-like statement that he would absolutely not run for governor.
With a typical Nelson grin, he replied, “I haven't been Shermanesque but I’ve said what I've said."
Bill Nelson is not stupid.
Nelson has been in politics for most of the last 40 years. He knows what his words signal. And so does his intended audience – Democratic campaign donors and activists.
Some Democrats are still struggling with the idea that former Republican Charlie Crist could be handed the party’s nomination for governor. They view him as an opportunist.
It’s politics. Everyone is an opportunist.
The more practical questions are these: Would Nelson be a better candidate than Crist? Can Nelson really defeat Republican incumbent Rick Scott in November?
Nelson’s most recent election victories were the 2012 defeat of former Congressman Connie Mack, and his 2006 win over former Congresswoman Katherine Harris. These were easy wins. Nelson barely left the office.
In 2000, Nelson easily defeated Republican Bill McCollum. Nelson’s toughest statewide campaign was in 1990 when he lost the Democratic primary for governor to Lawton Chiles. Of course the irony is that Chiles swooped in during the final months of the primary and to Nelson exactly what some Democrats are hoping Nelson would do to Crist.
Another irony – in Nelson’s desperate bid to beat back the last minute challenge from Chiles, he questioned Chiles age and health. Chiles was 61. Today, Nelson is 71.
Nelson is an old school campaigner. He can be tough. But is he really ready to take on someone like Crist? Is Nelson willing to have his record in the Senate scrutinized and challanged? And is Nelson ready for the onslaught that will come from the GOP and Scott's campaign?
Does Nelson, who is on the verge of being one of the Senate's most powerful members, willing to risk his legacy on another humiliating defeat in a race for governor?
Sometimes you get the feeling that those who are urging Nelson to run are thinking more of their own agenda than what is best for Florida's senior senator.
Bill Nelson is not stupid. He knows that too.