U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida's senior statewide elected Democrat, spoke with Deputy Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens and several other reporters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week about Sen. Barack Obama, who accepted the Democratic nomination for president Thursday night; the presidential race in Florida, where polls show Republican Sen. John McCain edging ahead; and campaign issues important to Florida voters. Some of the questions and answers, which have been edited and condensed for clarity: Can Obama win Florida?
Barack is listening, and he's paying attention to Florida. Everything we've suggested, he's done, including campaigning in the I-4 corridor. What did he do? He started in St. Petersburg and came right across that I-4 corridor and ended up with a town hall meeting in Titusville. The space program is the symbol of this nation's technological prowess, and Barack understands that.
What is the key to winning the state?
Mainstream politics, organize his turnout, talk common sense and let the contrast show between the ideological extreme and mainstream solutions to problems.
You supported Hillary Clinton for president. How hard has it been to switch your support to Obama?
The minute Hillary was out, it was quite natural. I just went out and started working for Barack.
How worried are you about the lingering tensions among a significant number of Clinton supporters who are slow to embrace Obama?
In an election there are always contrasts, and there are clear contrasts between (Obama and McCain). What's going to happen is after everybody gets through this convention and all this rah-rah, everybody will come together. What do you think of Obama's choice of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate?
I told Barack if you want the best choice, it should be Hillary or Joe Biden. Joe is one of my best friends in the Senate. Joe is so well-equipped to be president if he had to be that everybody knows he is the right choice.
You have fought to protect Florida's coastlines from oil drilling. Now Obama has signaled he is open to expanding drilling. Would the state's shoreline be protected by an Obama administration?
Recognize what Obama said last. He believes the 65-million acres of leases in federal lands and not drilled on ought to be drilled on first. He also said there ought to be a comprehensive approach. That means we need to get revenue from oil companies for all of the other things that ought to be done first. There's a lot of opportunities to have a balanced approach. When Obama initially was asked he was caught off guard. I don't think we have a problem.
What are the chances for a national catastrophe fund that would help lower property insurance rates for Floridians?
Any way you cut it, it's going to be hard to get a cat fund. I think a reasonable approach is that if the Florida cat fund ran out of money, then it could get a loan from the U.S. government at market interest rates.