Confused. Rambling. Incoherent. Those are just a few of the terms Gov. Rick Scott and his team have used to describe U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in Scott’s attempt to unseat the veteran Washington lawmaker.
During a debate Tuesday on Telemundo, Scott, 65, twice referred to Nelson as “confused,” first with regard to Florida’s legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act and then about Cuba.
Scott’s campaign manager, Jackie Schutz Zeckman, doubled down following the debate, saying Nelson “is barely hanging on.”
“A rambling, incoherent, confused, disjointed performance from a desperate career politician who is trying to hold onto his job,” Schutz Zeckman said in a statement.
In August, Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack called on Nelson’s “caretakers” to “keep better tabs” on the senator “so that he is not embarrassed into admitting he’s no longer dealing from a full deck.”
The Scott camp’s characterization of Nelson, 76, drew some harsh pushback from the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans, a left-leaning group that says it has 188,000 members.
Bill Sauers, the organization’s president, asked Scott “to stop using ageist, inflammatory language” to describe Nelson, pointing to Scott’s remarks during the debate and Schutz Zeckman’s even harsher language.
“Those statements are offensive and patently untrue and suggest that Rick Scott has a deep-seated bias against older Floridians. Ageism has no place in this campaign,” Sauers said. “Florida seniors will not be confused about who is the best candidate to represent us in the Senate. Senator Nelson has earned our trust and our votes.”
The alliance’s statement, however, gave Scott’s camp a chance to bring up a comment that Nelson made when he was running for governor in 1990 against 60-year-old Lawton Chiles.
“It’s his ideas that are old, which is why we need term limits,” Scott campaign spokesman Chris Hartline tweeted. “But since you brought up age, here’s what @SenBillNelson said about Lawton Chiles: ‘the mental and physical history and the mental and physical health of a candidate for Governor is a legitimate issue.’ ”
After Tuesday’s debate, Scott’s campaign also charged that Nelson wants to back out of an Oct. 16 debate on CNN, and it made a not-so-subtle claim that the 10 p.m. start time may be beyond Nelson’s bed time.
“After Bill Nelson’s embarrassing performance in yesterday’s Telemundo debate, it’s not surprising Nelson wants to break his word and avoid the upcoming CNN debate,” Schutz Zeckman wrote on Wednesday. “As you know, after months of delay from the Nelson camp, both sides agreed to a debate on the terms proposed by CNN, 10/16, Tampa, 10 p.m. Bill Nelson didn’t ask for special permission to pick a time when he wouldn’t be sleepy.”
Asked if a request was made to CNN to alter any aspect of the debate, Nelson’s campaign quickly replied that the accusation from the Republican camp was “1,000 percent false, just like everything else Scott says.”
“He just makes things up,” said Ryan Brown, Nelson’s campaign spokesman. “We will be at the CNN debate on Oct. 16 at the appointed time. And we hope it’s under oath.”
David Bergstein, national press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was more emphatic in voicing displeasure with the Scott campaign tactics.
“Scott always tries to pull this crap with debates,” Bergstein tweeted. “He was afraid to debate Crist because of a fan. The panic attacks from his team are the surest signs the polls have him losing are right.”
In 2014, Scott refused for more than four minutes to appear on the debate stage with Democratic gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist over a small fan placed next to Crist's feet beneath the podium.
FRIED FIRES OFF AT THE NRA
Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, said this week that if voters let her run the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, things will be different for the National Rifle Association in Tallahassee.
Spurred by a Tampa Bay Times report that highlighted emails from NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer to the department on a variety of topics, Fried said in a letter to Hammer that “my administration will not be run by unelected special interests.”
Fried, an attorney and lobbyist, has also outlined plans for a “comprehensive audit” of the agency’s process of issuing concealed-weapons licenses.
“Neither the department, nor its employees will carry out the interests of the NRA or any outside group that seeks to unduly influence the rules that apply to them,” she said.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, Fried’s Republican opponent who touted his top ratings from the NRA during the primary election, scoffed that Fried’s assertions are simply “politically motivated antics.”
Caldwell derided Fried for making “false claims” about not being beholden to groups with money.
“My opponent spent the last eight years as a chronic lobbyist that literally got paid to peddle influence and broker political favors,” Caldwell said.
ALSO-RAN REMAINS AN ALSO-RAN
A candidate who loses a party primary can’t simply decide to keep running for office after being rejected by voters.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers denied Stuart physical therapist Bruce Nathan’s effort to remain in the governor’s race as an independent.
Nathan, who finished seventh out of eight candidates in the August Republican gubernatorial primary, went to court to try to force Secretary of State Ken Detzner to put him on the Nov. 6 general election ballot without a party affiliation.
But Gievers scuttled the idea.
“He has no right to claim he qualified for the general election ballot when the office for which he actually qualified, during the only applicable qualifying period, was the nomination of the party with which he signed an oath indicating his affiliation,” Gievers wrote.
Nathan argued he had been registered with no political affiliation and became a Republican when he filed for the statewide campaign, paying a higher qualifying fee to run in the primary. After losing the primary, he reverted his registration to no party.
As part of his argument, Nathan said state law says the “candidate receiving the highest number cast in each contest in the primary election shall be declared nominated for such office.” However, he said state law is “open to interpretation” for its “absence of any statement about the candidates that did not received the highest votes.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Dorothy Hukill was a pillar of strength for her community and her state. As a colleague, Dorothy was smart, always well prepared and unfailingly true to her word. As a friend, she was warm, honest and loyal. The twinkle in her eye said a thousand words. I will miss her dearly.” --- Sen. Rob Bradley (@Rob_Bradley), a Fleming Island Republican after the death of Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange.