It's well known political issues can cause candidates to change position in an election year. In a stark advancement of that premise, Bill Nelson just proved he's in such a nervous position with his reelection campaign, he had to change his position on a judicial nominee he recommended for a U.S. District Court post in Florida.
The sudden turnabout has to be regarded as a desperate lurch for the man in a struggle to retain his Senate seat against Gov. Rick Scott.
In November Allen Winsor was included on a short list of nominees for judicial positions to be submitted to the White House for possible nomination. Prior to submission, according to protocol, the candidate names are sent to the state's two senators for initial approval. Senator Nelson sat and interviewed Winsor at length before he recommended the judge to the white House.
But things have changed quickly for Bill Nelson since then -- including very publicly having to change his mind.
The Rick Scott candidacy has taken off and recent polls show him in the lead. The governor has even been trending better with Hispanics in the state, normally a core demographic for Nelson. Then in April, President Trump selected Winsor from the list to take the seat in Florida’s North District Court. This selection kicked off the nomination process -- which is when life became more uncomfortable for the Sunshine State's senior senator.
Trump’s nomination brought Winsor’s name up before the Senate judiciary committee. It was there that a number of issues were brought forward regarding the judge. Of primary concern was that while serving as solicitor general under Attorney General Pam Bondi, Winsor argued in favor of the state marriage law, an anti-same-sex marriage law that had been approved by Florida voters.
Despite arguing for a state law that voters had affirmed, this was deemed an offensive position for a judge, according to Democrats. (That law was eventually struck down by a judges panel in that same District Court Winsor is nominated to join.) He narrowly was approved to move forward for full Senate approval, but that vote was strictly along party lines. This meant Bill Nelson now was looking at a judicial nominee he supported being denied by his own party.
On Friday Nelson declared that he was in fact now going to oppose the same man he spoke with and personally approved. In a released statement, Nelson announced, “Because of the information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will vote against the confirmation of Allen Winsor.”
Rick Scott’s camp wasted no time in reacting to the decision. Lauren Schenone, press secretary for Scott’s Senate run said, “Bill Nelson is so partisan that a small group of out-of-state Democrats can force him to vote against a Floridian who he interviewed, recommended and supported.”
There was possibly more motivation behind the senator flipping his opinion. The Democratic operation Senate Majority PAC, coincidentally on Friday, began an anti-Scott ad campaign in the state. This partisan PAC is operated by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. This past February Nelson noted the importance of the New York senator in his race.
When asked about the possibility of Democrats being challenged on campaign funding for the November elections, Nelson had this to say: “You omitted the biggest factor -- Chuck Schumer.” Little surprise, then, that with a struggling campaign, the senator who tries to position himself under the “Independent” banner would try to appease party leadership by completely changing his stance on a court appointee he earlier had wholeheartedly approved.
Brad Slager is a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer who wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.