Monday, February 7, 2011

Why Senator Bill Nelson Should Be Worried

From: Irreverent View

When comparing electoral margins from 2002, 2006, and 2010 it doesn’t look good for Bill

By Jamie Miller, Irreverent View’s political insider

In January 2009, I wrote a column for Irreverent View that suggested Charlie Crist should run for re-election rather than run for the U.S. Senate.

In that article, I opined that Republican leaders would encourage Charlie to run for re-election to offer stability to the GOP statewide rather than face the inevitable chaos of open seats in every statewide office after Obama’s big win in Florida just a few months earlier.

Boy was I wrong! And right!

Hindsight often gives clarity to what was formerly foreshadowing. Charlie did not seek re-election and Florida faced one of the most chaotic elections in the state’s history. The 2010 elections, in fact, ushered in the first time in more than 100 years that the members of the entire Florida Cabinet all spent inauguration day as their first day in office. It was impossible to foreshadow some of the events including the incumbent Republican governor running as an independent, a multi-millionaire running and winning the gubernatorial campaign (OK, this one wasn’t a stretch against McCollum, but no one predicted that it would be someone who was unknown at the beginning of 2010), nor the Greer/RPOF scandal which added to the chaos of the 2010 election cycle.

Then there are the Democrats. Why did the election results turn out the way they did for Alex Sink? And why her political future isn’t as bright as some would think, and what all of this could mean for Sen. Bill Nelson and his chances for re-election.

While advising State Senator Paula Dockery on her race for governor, I believed that Bill McCollum could be beaten in the primary and Alex Sink would lose the general election. 

Bill McCollum and Alex Sink were not cut from the same cloth as Jeb Bush, Lawton Chiles, nor Bob Graham. These were wannabe’s. Two people who thought their previous service entitled them to a promotion.

McCollum had lost more statewide elections than he won. He was supposed to be immune in primaries, but he lost to Martinez in a primary for U.S. Senate. His lone win came for Attorney General against an opponent who spent his money at the wrong time with the wrong message. In other words, he backed into the Attorney General’s race in 2006. I also served as a senior advisor to McCollum in that race, and had my hands full with trying to keep him, his wife, and his long-time advisors from giving that race away.

Alex Sink, on the other hand, won a statewide race against the former State Senate President who had a bitter primary which allowed her to outspend her opponent in the final 40 days of the campaign by more than a 3 to 1 margin. In other words, she backed into her race against a bloodied and broke opponent.

Looking back at my article from 2009, my comments from the campaign of 2010, and looking forward to 2012, it becomes apparent to me that in 2006 Republicans fielded the worst slate of candidates since some time in the 1970’s. Even in the 80’s we seemed to find Paula Hawkins, Connie Mack, and Bob Marinez. But, I’ll let history buffs argue which Republican slate was weaker than the one in 2006 and why it meant defeat for each of them (excluding Ag Commissioner Charles Bronson), and why Bill Nelson should be concerned.

One could speculate that 2010 would mimic 2006 more than 2002 when Jeb Bush was running for reelection, Tom Gallagher won the CFO race without opposition, and there wasn’t a race for U.S. Senate; but 2006 was the anomaly due to the weakness of candidates across the board.

Other than Sink, the Democrats didn’t fare much better in their field of candidates in 2006. Their only other statewide winner was Bill Nelson. Nelson can thank Katherine Harris for that.

Harris set a new modern historic low for a statewide Republican candidate with just 38.1 percent of the vote.
Bill Nelson appears to be “the luckiest politician in the history of the state of Florida.”

Nelson faced the weakest statewide Republican challenger for any statewide office in at least 20 years in Katherine Harris in 2006 and if you look back to his first election to the U.S. Senate, he defeated none other than the perpetual loser, Bill McCollum. In that race, the year of the Presidential recount, Nelson won by a more modest 5 percentage points 51 percent to 46 percent.

So, why does it surprise people when a Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday, February 3rd showed him losing to a generic Republican by two points (42-40 percent)? His approval rating is a vulnerable 45 percent and just 43 percent believe he should be re-elected. While the mainstream press is sugar-coating these numbers as “not that bad” but “not that good,” you can rest assured that these numbers are not good for a 12-year incumbent who has served in elected office since 1978 (excluding 1990-1994 when he lost a primary campaign to Lawton Chiles). Twenty-eight years in public office and not one person can say one specific thing he has accomplished except take the most expensive political junket in the history of the U.S. Congress.

Bill Nelson is not an astronaut. He’s not even an eccentric billionaire who bought a seat on a trip to space. He was a sitting U.S. Congressman in 1986 when he took a joyride on the Space Shuttle to the tune of $450 million of taxpayers’ money (adjusted for inflation – source NASA).

Bill Nelson shouldn’t be surprised by his low numbers, nor should he be surprised by his inevitable defeat in 2012 by whomever the Republicans pick as their nominee. That’s if he makes it through the Democratic Primary.

Quite frankly, Bill Nelson is ripe for a challenge from a wealthy liberal. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Alan Grayson takes a shot at Nelson. While Nelson is the strongest Democrat in the state, the truth is, that’s not saying much.

Jamie Miller is a political consultant, a former campaign manager for Katherine Harris’ U.S. Senate race, and a former executive director for the Republican Party of Florida. E-mail him at:
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