On exclusive Star Island at a Clinton Global Initiative fundraiser two weeks ago, big-time Democratic donor Neal Roth couldn’t believe he was hearing it.
“It looks like Bill Nelson’s looking hard at running,” a booster of the Democratic senator said of his interest in campaigning for governor, Roth recalls.
Roth’s first reaction: “Why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot?”
“Charlie Crist can’t beat Bill in a primary,” the insider, whose name Roth won’t give up, replied.
Roth: “You’re missing the point. We can’t afford a Democratic primary where we come out broke and broken. If Bill wanted to run for governor, he should have done it before Charlie filed.”
There’s a reason for the shock.
After months of ebbing and flowing, the story of Nelson running in 2014 seemed settled in October. Nelson had all but said he wouldn’t do it — and potentially endanger the very Senate seat he won last year.
Now the story of his candidacy has again resurfaced amid new undertones of intrigue, envy, ambition and miscalculation that could even embarrass even the White House.
It also damages Nelson’s brand as a plain-spoken pol. There’s a reason The Tampa Bay Times dubbed him this week’s “loser of the week” in Florida politics.
At the Florida Democrats’ state convention Oct. 26, Nelson repeatedly tried to cast doubt on rumors he would run for governor against incumbent Rick Scott.
“I have no plans to run for governor. And I have no intention of running for governor,” Nelson said, almost exasperated as he noting he had to “repeat myself” for months.
Asked if the former Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat, Crist, was a good member of his new party, Nelson said “yes.” He said “whoever the Democratic nominee is” will beat Scott and get his backing.
What if Crist falters by next spring, would Nelson reconsider?
“If I say anything, you guys are going to run with it,” Nelson said. “And I’m not going to let you run with it.”
Six days later, Nov. 1, Crist filed his paperwork, having met with Nelson beforehand (Nelson also met with Democratic candidate and former state Sen. Nan Rich, too).
But just before and after Crist filed, one longtime Nelson advisor quietly started calling donors. Some say they were told Nelson would run only if Crist falters. A smaller number of Democrats believe Nelson wants to run regardless.