PINELLAS PARK — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson faces one of the toughest re-election fights of his career, with outside groups having already spent roughly $10 million attacking him as a liberal and for supporting the Affordable Care Act.
Campaigning in Pinellas County on Monday, Nelson made no apologies for that vote while acknowledging he has taken plenty of criticism for it. He recounted one town hall meeting in rural North Florida, where a man wagged his finger at Nelson and demanded that he repeal "Obamacare."
"Would you like me to repeal the part where you can keep your kid on your family policy until age 26? Would you like me to repeal that part that says that the insurance company can't cancel you when you're in the middle of treatment?" Nelson said.
"What about the part that says . . . if you have a large group health insurance policy that the insurance company now, in law, is going to have to give you 85 cents of health care for your premium dollar?"
Nelson's remarks to about 250 people at a Greater Pinellas Democratic Club dinner in Pinellas followed a fundraiser at the St. Petersburg home of Scott Wagman and Beth Houghton, where Nelson raised an estimated $30,000 for his campaign against Republican nominee Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers.
Nelson, 69, never mentioned Mack by name, but in decrying what he called false attacks on him by independent Republican groups, he noted that entitlements have become a front-burner issue with Paul Ryan picked as Mitt Romney's running mate.
"My opponent co-sponsored a bill with none other than congressman Paul Ryan, a bill to privatize Social Security. Specifically what they did was they were going take a third of the Social Security Trust Fund and they were going to give it in individual accounts to the senior citizens who then were to invest in the stock market," Nelson said.
Mack campaign spokesman David James responded: "Liberal Bill Nelson is the only one in this race who has cut over $700 billion from current Medicare recipients by placing the burden of Obamacare on seniors and has offered no plan to balance the budget or even passed a budget on the Senate Budget Committee in three years; he is a failed senator."
Nelson noted that that $700 billion did not come from beneficiaries but from reductions in how much Medicare reimburses hospitals and from private Medicare Advantage plans that threatened to "bankrupt Medicare."
In 1986, Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle, and rarely misses an opportunity to bring that up. Monday, he recounted peering from space at "colorful, beautiful, but fragile" Earth.
"I looked and I did not see racial divisions. I did not see political divisions, I did not see ethnic divisions, I did not see religious divisions," Nelson said. "From that perspective in space, looking back at our home planet, I saw that we were all in this together."