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Has Bill Nelson's Moment Finally Arrived?

November 9, 2012 - 6:00pm

Democrat Bill Nelson made the state and the nation a promise in his acceptance speech Tuesday night: He said he will be the voice of moderation, the voice of bipartisanship. He said he will work to unite the country.

Nelson, who won reelection to his U.S. Senate seat by 55 percent, said he will "try to reach across the aisle and bring people together to build consensus, so we can govern this country."

It sounded so good to so many. Will Nelson accomplish it? Will he actually make the effort this time, in his third term?

Sadly, what Americans fear is more status quo in the Beltway.

With the elections finally over, Barack Obama is still in the Oval Office, while Democrats keep the Senate and Republicans retain the House.

After two years of gridlock, Americans can expect more of the same, especially in the coming weeks as Congress grapples with extending the 2001 and 2003 federal tax cuts and major cuts to the budget.

There are plenty of solutions to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, most of which have a snowballs chance of getting passed. As they struggle to break the stalemate, Democrats should have the upper hand over the Republicans because they have the White House and the Senate.

This means that moderate Senate Democrats should be able to play a major part in crafting any compromise that the two parties can agree to.

Look for Max Baucus, the long-serving Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, to try to cobble together an agreement of some sort, especially as he faces voters in his Republican-leaning state in 2014.

There remains room for other leaders to step up, especially as some of the other senators who could have crafted a compromise -- Dick Lugar, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snow -- are leaving. That's why a promise to make a difference from Bill Nelson can give the Florida veteran U.S. senator such purpose and the nation so much hope.

Unfortunately, Nelson, who turned 70 this year, is hardly known for stepping up, or for his dynamism.

He is one of the luckiest men in Washington. While he was in Congress for 12 years and has been in the Senate even longer, all he is really known for is his trip into space in 1986. That was a long time ago.

A sparse record like this would trip up most politicians, but not Nelson. He has been blessed with some of the lamest opponents ever to grace the political arena. Nelson beat Bill McCollum to win the seat in 2000. This accomplishment looks less impressive in hindsight, since McCollums claim to fame is starting strong in statewide bids before fading and pulling defeat out of the jaws of victory, as he did in 2000, 2004 and 2010. The next Republican who tried to defeat him was Katherine Harris, best known for her running mascara and her role in the 2000 presidential election. The comically inept Harris suffered a series of campaign implosions, and Nelson romped over her in the 2006 general election.

This time around, Connie Mack challenged Nelson. With the support he was getting from the Republicans and from outside groups. Mack should have posed a real threat to Nelson, but he turned out to be a virtually invisible candidate. Mack got in the race late and most of his major opponents for the Republican nomination dropped out.

Perhaps Nelson, the man for whom election comes easy but distinction does not, will finally come through. (See the video promise he made his supporters on Thursday.)

This story is an analysis piece. Jeff Henderson is a freelance political writer. Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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