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Joe Biden picks up Florida endorsements, including Bill Nelson and Bob Graham

The two join a list of establishment Democrats to back the former vice president in his campaign for president
Former Vice-President Joe Biden, center, gives a speech to a packed gymnasium while Florida Gubernatorial Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum, left, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson looks on during the Florida Democratic Party rally held at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 22, 2018. Nelson has endorsed Biden for president. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
Former Vice-President Joe Biden, center, gives a speech to a packed gymnasium while Florida Gubernatorial Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum, left, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson looks on during the Florida Democratic Party rally held at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 22, 2018. Nelson has endorsed Biden for president. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Jul. 29, 2019

Two longtime faces of the Florida Democratic Party are backing Joe Biden’s presidential campaign as the former vice president continues to flex his support among the state’s political establishment.

Bill Nelson and Bob Graham headline a list of new endorsements for Biden in the Sunshine State, which also includes state Sens. Jason Pizzo of North Miami Beach and Lori Berman of Lantana and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

“Each and every one of these leaders are trusted voices in their communities and I am proud to have earned their support," Biden said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “Their endorsements are crucial to this campaign.”

Graham served alongside Biden in the Senate until he left in 2005. His daughter and former candidate for Florida governor Gwen Graham endorsed Biden earlier this year.

Nelson was also colleagues with Biden — and a handful of other 2020 contenders. Reached by phone Sunday night, Nelson spoke fondly of many of them.

Nelson worked with Sen. Elizabeth Warren to crack down on scammers targeting the elderly, he was assigned as “pledge dad” to Sen. Bernie Sanders when the Vermont Independent joined the upper chamber and he once challenged Sen. Cory Booker to a pushup contest.

But Nelson said Biden gives Democrats the best chance of beating Trump in the rust belt states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.

“No. 1, Joe Biden is prepared to be president,” Nelson said. “No. 2, Joe Biden can beat Donald Trump. And No. 3, Joe Biden was one of my best friends in the Senate. I know him well. And I firmly believe that Joe can beat Trump in Florida”

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While many Democrats-turned-presidential contenders parachuted into Florida to help Nelson last year, Biden was the biggest draw when he joined the campaign trail for rallies during the home stretch of the campaign. At one Tampa rally, Biden said of Nelson: “I’ve met more senators than anybody living. I haven’t met anyone in all my years with more character, courage, integrity and decency than Bill Nelson.”

The endorsements show that Biden has not lost the backing of the political class in Florida despite ceding ground in 2020 primary polls to rising contenders like Harris and Warren.

Nelson and Graham may be iconic in Democratic circles, but they’e also on a cold streak. Nelson lost his U.S. Senate in a historically good election for Democrats nationwide and many blamed a sluggish, disconnected campaign. Graham, a former governor, couldn’t push his daughter through last year’s gubernatorial primary.

There are many Democrats that believe it’s time for a new generation to emerge. They’re hoping the party can reinvigorate itself and voters by nominating a fresh face.

“I agree with all of that, but I also know that we have to save the country first,” Nelson said. “We have to have the restoration of confidence in the integrity, honesty and forthrightness of our leader. I suspect that he will take care of the new generation if he’s the nominee with his selection of a VP and he has plenty of good choices.”

Some have suggested that Florida — a delegate rich state that is large, diverse and difficult to organize — is Biden’s firewall en route to the party’s nomination. None of the Democratic candidates have much of a presence here as they focus on early primary states and not the 219 delegates to be handed out on Florida’s March 17 primary.

A June poll from Quinnipiac University put Biden’s support at 41 percent, followed by Sanders (14%), Warren (12%), South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg (8%) and Harris (6%).

One-third of Florida lawmakers have already endorsed Biden, Politico reported earlier this year.

The latest list of endorsements, provided to the Tampa Bay Times by the Biden campaign, also includes Nancy Sodeberg, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Bill Proctor, Leon County Commissioner; Joyce Cusack, Volusia County Councilwoman; Robert Ascencio, former state representative; Rod Smith, former state senator and former Florida Democratic Party Chairman; Chip Fletcher, former City of Tampa Councilman and Hillsborough County attorney; and Dick Batchelor, former state representative.