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Nelson, Jones Stump in Pensacola

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson brought his re-election campaign to Pensacola on Wednesday, with him and fellow Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama speaking at the Escambia Education Association headquarters.

Supporters filled the auditorium at the EEA carrying signs representing students, women and the current issue regarding beach privatization.

Bill Nelson’s appearance in the predominantly-Republican Panhandle comes as he leads Republican challenger Rick Scott in a couple of independent polls – 52-46 percent in Quinnipiac, and 50-45 percent from CNN. Nelson pointed to what he calls Rick Scott’s “election year conversion” on the environment.

“He has tried to help the oil industry as recently as this year going to big fundraisers in Houston and Oklahoma City,” Nelson said. “And yet he says basically whatever I am for, [Scott] is now for.”

Nelson went back to 2009, when he was a member of the committee that approved the Affordable Care Act. After years of opposing Obamacare, Nelson says Scott’s new campaign ad now embraces keeping coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

“The state of Florida is one of 19 states that has [sic] sued in federal court to declare pre-existing condition protection as unconstitutional as part of the Affordable Care Act,” said Nelson. “There seems to be no shame that they will do one thing and say something else.”

Nelson also took Gov. Scott to task for not expanding Medicaid – which under the ACA would be paid for by Uncle Sam – to cover an additional 800,000 Floridians.

“Thirty-one states including states with a Republican legislature and governor have expanded [Medicaid]; but 19 states including the state of Florida – [refused] because it had something to do with Obama,” said Nelson. “And not just one year, but for the seven years of the law. Now that’s wrong.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) speaks at Wednesday's Bill Nelson rally in Pensacola, as Sen. Nelson looks on.

Joining Nelson on the stump Wednesday was freshman Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, for whom Nelson rolled out a verbal welcome mat, reaching back to Jones’ time as a federal prosecutor.

“The U.S. Attorney that will take on the [Ku Klux] Klan 30 and 40 years later after the bombing, killing four little girls in Birmingham as they came out of church,” said Nelson. “Any U.S. Attorney like that is my hero.”

In his remarks, Jones said since he took office in January, Bill Nelson has been a friend, colleague and a mentor in helping him navigate what Jones calls “the shark-infested waters of the United States Senate.”

“He and his staff have been so wonderful – but it’s the neighborly thing to do, right?” said Jones. “I gotta tell you folks, this election is incredibly important. And I am doing all I can to make sure that folks get out there to vote. As Bill said, elections have consequences.”

While staying in Mobile – which is part of the media market that includes Pensacola – Jones saw a number of campaign ads -- including one where Rick Scott criticizes Bill Nelson’s 46-years of public service.

“That’s not something to be critical of; that’s something to be proud of,” Jones told a cheering audience. “And the irony, for someone like me, was not lost because while Rick Scott was having a company that was ripping people off and fined billions, this guy [Nelson} had your back.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Supporters of Sen. Bill Nelson's reelection hear from Democratic congressional candidate Jennifer Zimmerman.

Jones was referring to Scott’s former company HCA/Columbia, which was fined nearly two billion dollars for Medicare fraud. Alabama’s junior Senator feels good about Nelson’s re-election bid, but adds that nobody can take anything for granted.

“We’ve got to run like we’re underdogs; and to make sure that we do those things,” said Jones. “So it’s going to be up to you. [Nelson’s] job in this campaign is about done; but right now we can all leave here, we can go get other people. I don’t want folks in this room waking up on November the 7th and saying, ‘man, if I had just gotten five more people to the polls.’”

Meanwhile, a new ad by the Nelson For Senate campaign features the endorsements of various newspapers around Florida – such as the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, and Orlando Sentinel. The Pensacola News Journal will not make endorsements this election cycle, preferring instead to use question-and-answer sessions to get candidates’ messages to the public.