Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Politics

Bill Nelson tries to weather third-party attacks in U.S. Senate race

ST. PETERSBURG — Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday he's taking nothing for granted in his race against Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV despite a lead in most polls.

The bad news for Nelson? Outside conservative groups continue to pour millions into TV attacks targeting Nelson for his votes in favor of President Barack Obama's health care law.

By Nelson's count, outside spending against him has exceeded $18 million, Nelson said during a Tuesday meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. Last week, American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $3.6 million. This week, American Crossroads launched a $2 million buy that accuses Nelson of "milking the system" by taking a greenbelt tax exemption on his family pasture.

"The good news is that it has not moved the needle very much," Nelson said.

A Sept. 19 Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll showed Nelson beating Mack 48-40, a three-point shift in the Democrat's favor since July.

Nelson said the latest Crossroads ad, and those that precede it, are misleading voters. The influx of negative ads against him this year "forced me to go up early" against Mack, he said, resulting in a commercial highlighting Mack's youthful brawls and missed congressional votes. "I just don't have that much money, so I had to string it out," he said, "but I couldn't let them keep attacking me like they were."

In response, the Mack campaign pointed out that Nelson enjoys support from outside spending groups as well, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Majority PAC, Saving Florida's Future and American Bridge. Those groups have attacked Mack on the airwaves. Mack spokesman David James also criticized Nelson for not actively campaigning. "It's an insult to all Floridians that a person who's held public office for 40 years can only discuss his record for a total of 15 days prior to election day in public," James said.

Nelson would not reveal how much his campaign will spend the next five weeks. "Depends on what they do in their attacks against me," Nelson said. "I have to protect myself, and I have to protect myself with the truth."

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