Plenty of senators in recent years called it quits when they were in their mid to late 70s. Not Bill Nelson as all signs indicate he will run for a fourth term in 2018. Nelson signaled once again at the end of August that he will run for a fourth term. In 2018, Nelson will be 76 but he shows no signs of slowing down.
Republicans think they have a good shot at taking Nelson on and Rick Scott seems raring to go. Tom Rooney has also thrown his name into the mix but he is also starting to get some notice as a possible attorney general candidate in 2018. Rooney has his strengths, to be sure, but Scott is far better known, can obviously finance another campaign if he wants, and most Republicans like the governor. Scott’s approval stands in the low- to mid-70s with Republicans and that, along with the money chase, should make Rooney think twice about taking on the governor in the primary.
Nelson, though, is not an easy target. Republicans had a good shot in 2012 at taking Nelson out but he wiped the floor with Connie Mack. Off-year elections generally help Republicans in Florida but there are plenty of voters, especially in the northern and rural parts of the state, who will split the tickets, voting Republican for most offices while still casting ballots for Nelson in the Senate race.
Still, Nelson has to reintroduce himself to plenty of voters. This seems to happen every six years. Nelson has been a political force in Florida for decades but he keeps such a low profile in Washington that a large segment -- often between a quarter to a third -- of voters aren’t sure what they think about him.
In the meantime, Nelson can be a reliable vote for the Democrats in the Senate. That was clear when he lined up behind Barack Obama’s agreement with Iran. Nelson hopes voters will forget all about it in three years, much like they did his vote in support of Obamacare.
Nelson is lucky in one respect: he’s never the main story in Florida politics. Nelson’s race against Bill McCollum was something of an afterthought to Bush vs. Gore. Six years later, Nelson was expected to blow out Katherine Harris while all eyes were on the gubernatorial race. In 2012, after Mack struggled, Nelson stayed out of the spotlight while everyone wondered if Florida would go for Obama again or break for Mitt Romney.
Once again, Nelson could get lucky in 2018. Scott’s term-limited and plenty of politicians are looking at becoming governor. More eyes will be there than on the Senate race even if Nelson takes on Scott in a clash of the titans.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.