WASHINGTON — Three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson isn't on the ballot in November but the stakes are higher than his cakewalk 2012 re-election campaign: If Republicans take Senate control — a distinct possibility — Nelson will be denied a chance to chair the Commerce Committee.
"I think he'd do very well," retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the current chairman, said in an interview Tuesday at the Capitol.
"I was afraid he was going to run for governor," Rockefeller said. "He went back and forth," Rockefeller says, the most direct link to talk that Nelson has considered challenging Gov. Rick Scott. "We talked a lot. And I was always lobbying him to stay here."
Asked what Nelson's argument for a gubernatorial bid was, he said: "Because he could be" governor.
"Crist is no gem," Rockefeller added.
Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, is running again and has the backing of the state and national party.
Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, has been incredibly difficult to nail down on his plans. He remembered the conversation a bit differently.
Rockefeller "wanted me to stay," he said, "to take over the chairmanship. He's been very gracious."
When a reporter told him "the door is closed on being able to run for governor," Nelson replied that it's not, technically. "Well, at this point the week of June 16 is the qualifying. I have no intention of running."
Republicans can take the Senate by capturing six seats from Democrats in November.
Nelson ticked off vulnerable Democrats — Mark Begich in Alaska, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Pryor in Arkansas — and said he thinks they will win. But he admitted he's pondered being denied a prime opportunity to oversee the influential Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
"Of course the thought crosses my mind," he said. "I'd much rather be chairman than ranking member."
Rockefeller conceded the possibility, but noted twice as many Republicans than Democrats are up for re-election in 2016. "We'll take it right back. If they win, their true nature will come out. They so hate (Barack) Obama and then the country will throw them out again."
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