Democrats Turn Away from Charlie Crist Toward Bill Nelson

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: May 30, 2013 3:55 AM
Bill Nelson

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. | Credit: Flickr - Jonathan

Despite his protests that he has no plans to run against Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., continues to cast a large shadow over the 2014 Florida gubernatorial race.

On Tuesday, in Tampa, Nelson faced the media and was asked if he intends to challenge Scott in 2014. Nelson played down the possibility that he would run, insisting he was not interested -- but once again did not fully close the door on the possibility of running. During his time with the media on Tuesday, Nelson ripped Scott and Republicans in the Legislature, bashing the “tea party government” in Tallahassee on education, transportation and Medicaid.

For the moment, former Gov. Charlie Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination, while former state CFO Alex Sink, who lost to Scott in 2010, is also considering a bid, and former state Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich has been running for more than a year with little success.

But some Democrats remain wary of Crist, remembering that he was a Republican who ran for statewide offices several time as a conservative. In 2010, having been caught by Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, Crist abandoned the GOP to continue his bid for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation. At the end of 2012, having endorsed Barack Obama’s bid for a second term, Crist jumped over to the Democrats.

With Crist’s history and Nelson’s track record of being the strongest Democratic candidate in Florida since the days of Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham, some party members continue to encourage the Sunshine State’s senior U.S. senator to run for governor in 2014. This week, former Congressman Jim Davis, whom Crist bested in the 2006 gubernatorial race, expressed his hope that Nelson would challenge Scott in 2014.

Despite his protests that he has no desire to run against Scott, Nelson is not dampening speculation that he will run for governor by his actions. He ripped into Scott on Tuesday when he talked to the media in Tampa. Last week, Nelson’s office attacked Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature for passing SB 1842, a bill that would “leave consumers at the mercy of health insurance companies, allowing insurers to raise rates between 10 percent and perhaps as high as 70 percent over the next two years.”

Nelson even took time out last week to write to Scott, urging him to veto Senate Bill 1842.

“The bill, in essence, allows health insurers to raise rates for the next two years without the approval of the state’s insurance regulator. I am told this will result in rate increases ranging between 10 percent and 70 percent,” Nelson wrote. “As you may know, critics of this legislation contend it’s politically motivated to let rates increase after the main provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act take effect in 2014.”

Nelson even brought his own credentials into the letter, reminding Scott that he was familiar with insurance issues from his time in Tallahassee.

“Having previously served Florida as state treasurer and insurance commissioner, I am extremely concerned about the consequences of insurance deregulation,” Nelson wrote. “To eliminate the Florida insurance commissioner’s authority to turn down rate increases is unbelievable and unconscionable. In these difficult economic times, the state should not be taking a step backward when it comes to protecting consumers. So, in the public interest, I believe it’s necessary for you to veto this bill.”

Granted, as a former state legislator and Cabinet official, Nelson has always had one foot in Tallahassee, even during his years in Congress and in the Senate. He ran for governor in 1990 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Chiles. But that’s been Nelson’s only setback during his four decades in Florida politics. He’s easily the Democrat best poised to defeat Scott in 2014.

With Crist already under fire from the Republicans, Democrats are looking around for candidates with less baggage. Sink has already lost to Scott once. Despite being in the race for more than a year, Rich isn't getting much of a toehold. Increasingly, Democrats like Jim Davis are starting to look Nelson’s way. By not slamming the door on running for governor and by taking aim at Scott, Nelson is helping to keep his name out there as a possible challenger to Rick Scott.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News. 

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