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Bill Nelson helps fund other Democrats in effort to gain control of 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 reins.

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.

Super-defection?

Back in November, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson agreed to join Hillary Clinton's Florida Leadership Council, which Team Clinton described as "a group of over 150 elected officials, community, coalition and grass roots leaders who will help build a grass roots-driven volunteer team that will help Hillary to win the Florida Primary on March 15."

But Grayson, who as a congressman is a "superdelegate" who can vote for whomever he chooses at the Democratic National Convention, did not consider his name on the vast list of Florida Clinton supporters a signal that he also was a Clinton supporter. Now, Grayson is asking people to vote online whether he should cast his superdelegate vote for Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

"Instead of selling my superdelegate vote to the highest bidder — like most members of the unDemocratic Party these days — I am offering up my vote to you. You decide: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The choice is, literally, yours. Go vote now," he says on GraysonPrimary.com, a site set up by his Senate campaign.

In the first 24 hours, Grayson's campaign said, more than 50,000 people from across the country weighed in. Grayson plans to announce the results before Florida's March 15 primary.

Open-carry bill demise sparks clash in Senate

So much for peace among Republicans in the Florida Senate this session.

After Sen. Don Gaetz issued a statement on Thursday blasting fellow Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla for killing his open-carry bill, another Republican senator fired back on Friday, accusing Gaetz of being a hypocrite.

"When Don Gaetz was Senate president and throughout my time serving with him, he has never hesitated to use whatever procedural options were open to stifle the will of anyone else in the Senate," said Sen. Jack Lat­vala, R-Clearwater.

He cited instances during Gaetz's presidency from 2012 to 2014 when he said he thought the Republican used his power as president to halt the progress of Latvala's own priorities.

"For him to be talking about one senator stifling the will of the Senate, he needs to make sure he has clean hands," Latvala said.

Latvala and Gaetz are not ones to mince words, and they have a history of publicly showing their mutual dislike. During the special session on Senate redistricting last fall, Gaetz rose for a 17-minute tirade on the Senate floor in which he called Latvala a "bully."

Gaetz's controversial legislation would have allowed 1.5 million people with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to openly carry handguns.

Adam C. Smith and Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.

Winner of the week

Gov. Rick Scott. Much of his legislative agenda is in limbo, but the Republican governor finally got 10 of his appointed agency heads confirmed by the Florida Senate. And, his choice for surgeon General, Dr. John Armstrong, survived his first hearing, where his confirmation had been considered in serious jeopardy.

Loser of the week

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. His bill to allow people to openly carry handguns never got a hearing after Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla refused to put the bill up for a debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Gaetz said Diaz de la Portilla abused his authority by stifling the Senate from even being able to discuss the bill.

Bill Nelson helps fund other Democrats in effort to gain control of Senate 02/20/16 [Last modified: Saturday, February 20, 2016 10:28pm]
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