Give Bill Nelson credit for moxy. After five years of lying like a carp in the Washington weeds, he turns up in Florida at election time shaking a tin cup and warning of a right-wing extremist takeover if he's not returned to office.
This is Sen. Empty Record we're talking about here.
Twelve years in the U.S. Senate and what is Nelson's most significant assignment? He's chairman of the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth Subcommittee. It's not by accident Florida's senior senator isn't on the upper chamber's A-list.
Rather than answer for the tough fights he sat out during the last five consequential years -- from taking it to Wall Street to saving Social Security to preserving NASA for Florida -- the 69-year-old Democrat resorts to Progress Florida-style cyber panhandling.
That's the nasty stuff. The begging-letter campaign employed to scare the daylights -- and a steady flow of cash -- out of the party base. The latest Nelson letter carries a headline -- "A new potential Republican opponent from the extreme right has entered the race."
(Read the complete Nelson fundraising letter in the attachment below.)
Apparently that's Dave Weldon. Weldon is the only "new potential Republican opponent" in the Senate race. But the letter never specifically names him. Probably that's because Weldon isn't scary enough or extreme enough to make Nelson's letter work under a close light.
"I just got a new potential Republican opponent from the extreme right in the Florida Senate race," Nelson's letter reads. "'Perhaps more significantly his campaign is being run by two of the top political operatives behind Rick Santorum's presidential bid -- the same Rick Santorum who said that President Kennedy made him want to throw up."
J. Hogan Gidley, senior political adviser at Brabender Cox -- one of those political operatives Nelson refers to -- is working on Weldon's campaign now. He told Sunshine State News, "Dave Weldon didn't say anything about President Kennedy, Rick Santorum did. Since when is Nelson running against Rick Santorum? He's already trying to slam Weldon and raise money off Weldon's name."
Nelson's letter continues, "It just goes to show extremists are doubling down to try and buy the Senate seat in Florida -- and we can't let them. Help me fight back against the extreme right in Florida! Please contribute ..."
Here are the facts.
Nelson is sitting on a war chest in excess of $10 million -- three times greater than that of his chief rival, Connie Mack. And mean old scary-extremist Dave Weldon, for whom the bell tolls in this begging letter, has less than one-tenth of Nelson's largess. Less than one-tenth.
Without a case to make for himself, Nelson apparently has found a way to make voters want to keep him anyway. He produces letters like this, one after another in his campaign, and he makes statements like this one written in the Weldon letter:
"Bloomberg News recently reported that a handful of shadowy right-wing groups linked to Karl Rove, the billionaire Koch brothers and undisclosed corporate dollars behind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have already run 6,464 TV attack ads against me in just the last two months in Florida -- and the general election won't even start until late August."
The trouble is, this letter is partisan overload. This is Bill Nelson jumping out from behind a lamp post and yelling, "Boo!"
It is the same Bill Nelson who made a repeated point of calling for greater civility between left and right. Condemning ideological boxes -- that's his thing. It has been a big crowd pleaser among independent voters wherever he goes.
The finger pointing and hyper-partisanship has to stop, Nelson said, speaking at a 2011 conference in Florida. Democrats need to see tea partiers as something other than debt-limit, hostage-taking Republicans. ... Weve got to stop this attack madness. We have to bring civility back to the public square ... The people of our country are fed up with this nonsense. I tell you I am fed up with it. It is frustrating.
Maybe Nelson was still asleep in the weeds when this letter was written. Or maybe he didn't like its tone but authorized it anyway, because Vice President Joe Biden told him that if he didn't win Florida, then President Obama wouldn't either. Whatever the case, the Weldon letter -- as all of the letters before it -- compromises principles Nelson vowed he held dear.
Wrapping up his pitch, Nelson says, "Whatever you donate will help fund a campaign that fights for Florida -- for hard-working families who need a voice and need someone to stand up to Karl Rove, Rick Santorum and the Koch brothers."
Perhaps we'll examine Nelson's claim another time that he "fights for Florida."
For now, recognize that civility and honesty are AWOL in this letter.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.