Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

Nelson confident but expects a fight for his Senate seat

After a disastrous year for his party, the only remaining statewide Democrat left in Florida has to be feeling a little uneasy heading into the next two years, right?

Not so, says U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

"No. I feel good," Nelson said when asked by reporters in Tallahassee recently if he has a target on his back as anticipation grows that Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, will challenge him for re-election in 2016.

Nelson said he knows he's going to get a Republican challenger no matter what because of the fact that he is one of 10 incumbent U.S. senators living in states that Donald Trump won.

"That's nothing new, Florida is always going to be a state that is contested," said Nelson, 74.

He said what gives him confidence is that in years past, Florida voters have looked beyond party labels and judged candidates on whether they have done the job they were elected to do. He said historically he's been able to win over some Republican voters and thinks he can do it again.

Recent election results show what Nelson faces. Of the 10 Democrats that have run statewide since 2010, just one has succeeded. That was Nelson in 2012.

He said he's going to run the same as he always does: "Like a scared jackrabbit."

Scott has not said publicly if he is running for the Senate in 2018, but he has been aggressively raising money over the past two years for his political action committee Let's Get to Work, even though he is term limited for governor. Scott has raised $7.7 million over the past two years in the account — more than any other elected official has raised for PACs they control.

Putnam piles up cash

December is typically a slow time for politicians to raise funds, given the holidays. But the man most Republicans expect to run for governor in 2018 continues to pile up the cash.

Since the start of December, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has raised more than $134,000 in a political committee he controls called Florida Grown PC. The Republican's biggest donor in December was a Tallahassee property management company called Arbor Properties, which gave Putnam $50,000.

Because Putnam is raising money in a PAC instead of a traditional campaign account, he is able to get around campaign donation limits. Donors can only give a candidate for governor a maximum of $3,000, according to the Florida Division of Elections. But donations to political committees do not have the same restriction.

Since the start of 2015, Putnam has raised more than $6.5 million for the committee, more than any other politician in Florida but Scott.

Putnam has not said if he is running, but the current governor thinks he's eyeing it. At an Enterprise Florida Board meeting in November, Scott told dozens of business leaders in the room and people watching on television that Putnam was thinking about the race.

"I think he's considering running for governor," Scott said with Putnam a few feet away.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala of Clearwater and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker are other Republicans reportedly considering the race. U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are Democrats considering the race.

Not interested

With Pam Bondi's departure for the Donald Trump administration seen as likely, Gov. Scott may soon have the luxury of appointing a replacement attorney general through the next election in 2018. Speculation is rampant about possible choices, but here's one name you can scratch off the list of possibilities: Corcoran.

Picking the House speaker as Bondi's replacement would be a two-fer for Scott, as the governor also would solve a major political problem heading into the 2017 legislative session. Corcoran has displayed an eagerness to challenge Scott by taking aim at two of the governor's favorite programs to promote jobs and tourism, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, and more philosophical clashes lie ahead.

Corcoran told the Times/Herald he would not take the attorney general's job even if Scott offers it up on a silver platter.

"No. Under no circumstances," Corcoran said in an interview. "I gave my word. I've given speeches on the floor that say that the measure of a man is how well he keeps his word, and I gave my word, and now I'll be giving my word, to 78 other Republicans and 41 other Democrats that I would serve as their speaker. ... You keep your word whatever the consequences are."

Trump security costs

Both of Florida's U.S. senators have joined four members of Congress calling on the federal government to help local governments cover the cost of providing security when President-elect Trump travels to the state.

Palm Beach County officials say the costs of providing security support for Trump's visits are piling up. The county says it spent approximately $250,000 to provide security support for Trump during his four-day visit over Thanksgiving alone.

Congress set aside $7 million for the Department of Justice to reimburse state and local law enforcement agencies for overtime costs associated with protecting the president-elect before his inauguration.

In the letter, the Florida members of Congress call on the Justice Department to use that money to help Palm Beach County cover the expenses.

Alex Leary and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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