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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Bill Nelson eager to flip seats in Senate



Days after New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan officially filed to run for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, the Democrat had a $2,500 check already in hand from a political action committee that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson runs out of his hometown of Melbourne.

That came days after Nelson’s Moving America Forward PAC had already upped its donations to Democrat Russ Feingold’s Senate campaign in Wisconsin to $10,000 and increased donations to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to $35,000.

The surge in donation activity in October, reported in new Federal Election Commission records, demonstrates how critical Senate races in New Hampshire and Wisconsin have suddenly become to Nelson’s hopes of becoming the first Floridian to lead one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. Senate in 100 years. No Floridian has taken over the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee since 1916 when then-Sen. Duncan Fletcher, a Democrat, took the reigns.

A century later, Nelson has enough seniority to be next in line to lead it, but only if Democrats regain the majority in the Senate. To do that the party needs to flip at least four seats held by Republicans. That number jumps to five if Republicans win the White House.

Democrats are favored in early polling in Illinois. The other three seats that stand the best chance of switching are in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Florida — all races Nelson has invested in. In June, Nelson’s PAC donated $5,000 to Rep. Patrick Murphy’s campaign in Florida.

Political analysts say its no surprise Nelson would be fixing his attention on New Hampshire.

“It feels like New Hampshire is on the cusp of being the deciding state,” said Nathan Gonzalez, editor of the Rothenberg & Gonzalez Political Report, which monitors Senate races in all 50 states.

During a stop in Tallahassee on Wednesday, Nelson acknowledged how important being chairman of the Commerce Committee could be. That committee has sway over federal transportation issues, coastal zone management, the space program, deep water ports and the outer continental shelf. Florida has 1,100 miles of coastline, 15 ports, the Kennedy Space Center and a history of opposing oil drilling.

“It sure has jurisdiction that affects the state,” Nelson agreed.

[Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2016 8:44am]


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