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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill Nelson: Stephen Bittel 'would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party'

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson talks with reporters during an end-of-year press conference in Tallahassee on Dec. 16, 2016.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson talks with reporters during an end-of-year press conference in Tallahassee on Dec. 16, 2016.

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December

Florida's top Democratic elected official says he's a fan of Stephen Bittel as a future leader in the Florida Democratic Party but his praise stops short of a formal endorsement.

Talking with reporters in Tallahassee on Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was delicate in how he answered questions about the future of the state Democratic Party -- the fate of which rests on the outcome of a special Miami-Dade party election on Tuesday.

"I'm trying to keep a low profile and let the party process work its will, because the minute that I stick my head out then people are going to say I'm trying to influence the election," Nelson told reporters. "I can tell you that Stephen Bittel is a personal friend and he would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party."

Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer, and former Cutler Bay state Sen. Dwight Bullard are competing for the position of Miami-Dade County Democratic Party committeeman. The special election on Dec. 20 comes after Bret Berlin stepped down earlier this month four days after being re-elected, making way for Bittel. The winner of the Bittel-Bullard contest will likely become the next state party chairman.

MORE: "With Florida Democratic Party in balance, lowly Miami-Dade race goes national"

Nelson praised outgoing state party chairwoman Allison Tant for having done "a remarkable job" leading the party and raising money while facing a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.

"It's very hard under those circumstances for the chair of the party to raise the money, and yet she has still done an exceptional job in the face of huge huge odds," Nelson said. "Going forward, I see that Stephen Bittel is someone that I know personally who could continue that excellent job."

"And beyond that, I better not get into it," Nelson said, declining any comment on Bullard.

Nelson also wouldn't touch on the political maneuvering that's made the way for Bittel to have a shot at Miami-Dade Democratic committeeman.

"I can only repeat to you what I know is happening," he said. "There is now a race for the state committeeman position in Miami-Dade County, and in order to be eligible for running for state party chair under state party rules, you have to be either a party chair, a vice chair or state committeeman or woman to run. That's my comment on that. I just don't know how that election is going."

[Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2016 1:02pm]

    

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