October 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm
By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
The Associated Press
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Sen. Bill Nelson has five Republicans firing shots at him and he’ll be just below the low-polling President Barack Obama on the 2012 ballot, and yet he’s acting like he doesn’t have a re-election coming up.
Sure, he’s raising a ton of money, but he’s not engaging with the Republicans criticizing him or doing any traditional campaigning. And he says he will not shy away from appearing with Obama as they both seek another term in office.
“The election is over a year away, I still have to perform — try to perform — as a good senator and there’s a lot to do,” Nelson told reporters during the Florida Democratic Party convention that wrapped up Sunday. “I’ve often found over the years, that if you just try to do a good job, politics will take care of itself.”
Other than the president’s re-election, retaining Nelson’s seat is the Florida Democrats’ biggest priority in the 2012. He maintained a high profile during the three-day convention, giving a speech and hosting a gathering at the Disney hotel where about 2,000 party activists gathered.
But, he’s not talking about his campaign — he doesn’t even have a campaign manager. He won’t criticize his opponents. He won’t even talk about them. And while Republicans are bashing Obama, Nelson noted that he stood onstage with Vice President Joe Biden at the convention and won’t hesitate to appear with the president, saying he thinks that his poll numbers will come up as voters look at the alternative.
“We’re talking a long time away. We’re over a year to go. I think the president will clearly be strong,” Nelson said, adding that he thinks the economy will improve. He also said Obama will be able to point to successes in foreign affairs and domestic security that are now being overshadowed by the focus on the economy.
He even lifted a line from Biden, saying, “Don’t compare us to the almighty, compare us to the alternative, and when people see that alternative, I think that they will stay with the president.”
Republicans hoping to challenge him include Congressman Connie Mack, former state Rep. Adam Hasner, retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, former Ruth’s Chris Steak House CEO Craig Miller and former Sen. George LeMieux, who was appointed to fill the last 16 months of Sen. Mel Martinez’ term.
The Republican candidates are attacking Nelson for being in lock-step with Obama and portraying him as a liberal. But the senator has a reputation as a moderate and is careful not to engage in partisan bickering. While most other speakers at the convention were attacking Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson said he has to work with him. The closest he came to criticizing him was mentioning that Scott would be smart to reconsider a law that Democrats say will make it more difficult for people to vote.
Nelson did say Republicans are becoming too entrenched in ideology, but gave a diplomatic answer when asked if that includes Sen. Marco Rubio, who may be the best example of a candidate using the tea party movement to win office.
“So you want me to criticize Marco?” Nelson responded when asked if Rubio was among the Republicans he considered to be going too far to the right. “I have a very good relationship and personal friendship with Marco.”
In the meantime, Nelson isn’t paying attention to the almost daily attacks from the Republicans hoping to unseat him.
“That’s not getting much traction, because they’re talking to a group of partisans that they’re trying to curry favor with for the Republican primary and it’s just not getting much circulation,” Nelson said. “When does the, quote, visible campaign start? I don’t know. A lot of that will depend on circumstances. But in the meantime I can’t stop being senator, so I’m just going to play it by ear.”