By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
There was considerable media speculation leading up to this year’s gubernatorial race that Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, might consider a bid against Gov. Rick Scott. Well, it turns out Nelson did consider a run, but ultimately decided against it.
“I was afraid he was going to run for governor,” [retiring West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller] said. “He went back and forth,” Rockefeller says, the most direct link to talk that Nelson has considered challenging Gov. Rick Scott. “We talked a lot. And I was always lobbying him to stay here.”
Asked what Nelson’s argument for a gubernatorial bid was, he said: “Because he could be” governor.
“Crist is no gem,” Rockefeller added.
Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, is running again and has the backing of the state and national party.
Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, has been incredibly difficult to nail down on his plans. He remembered the conversation a bit differently.
Rockefeller “wanted me to stay,” he said, “to take over the [Commerce] chairmanship. He’s been very gracious.”
When a reporter told him “the door is closed on being able to run for governor,” Nelson replied that it’s not, technically. “Well, at this point the week of June 16 is the qualifying. I have no intention of running.”
Well before former Republican Governor turned Democratic front-runner Charlie Crist officially announced he was running for his old job, there were some rumblings that Nelson would be a great candidate.
For one, Democrats have not run a really strong candidate in a long time. It’s part of the reason the state has had a Republican governor for so many years, even though Democrats have long had a registration edge in the state. Of course, the fact that gubernatorial elections are during the midterms is also a big factor.
But, Nelson has a decent chance of winning this race, which could be a mixed bag for his political career.
As Adam Smith with The Times points out, there are just as many reasons for Nelson to consider running for governor as there are for him to stay put in the U.S. Senate.
According to Smith, becoming Florida’s governor would be a great way to secure Nelson’s legacy, much like iconic governors Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham and LeRoy Collins. The governorship is also a better job. Partisan gridlock and the toxicity of Washington politics makes it really hard to get anything done. Things will be worse for Nelson in the Senate if Republicans take control this year, which is somewhat likely. As the leader of the state’s executive branch, Nelson could be more effective.
Plus, thanks to state law, Nelson won’t have to quit his job in the Senate to run—and if he loses, he can still go back to the Senate for another couple of years before having to run again.
Also, Nelson can actually win. He doesn’t have all the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat baggage that Crist carries. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott has continued to have a tough time in the polls.
However, there are also reasons to stay in the Senate.
For one, as Smith points out, because the election will be during a midterm (which tends to turn out considerably less Democrats) he also has a chance of losing. Considering the amount of money and work it will take to beat Scott, this could be a grueling election for the septuagenarian.
And of course, if he wins, Nelson could lose an important chairmanship position and Florida would lose one of the last few veterans in the Senate.
This week, Scott kicked off his re-election campaign. Until now, his many events around the Sunshine State have been on state business, but he just started holding rallies in major cities for strictly campaign purposes.