Bill Nelson
Photo by: Alex Edelman via ZUMA Wire

Senator Bill Nelson may wind up regretting what he told the Tampa Bay Times as he returned to the campaign trail this week, “I’ve spent the last week in the Panhandle in those storm ravaged counties, and have done everything I can do.”

First, the optics don’t look great. One week after a strong category 4 hurricane slammed into Florida, killing 24 and leaving thousands of people without homes – Bill Nelson says he’s done all that he can do. At the same time, Gov. Scott has left the campaign trail with First Lady Ann Scott replacing him at appearances across the state. 

Second, Rick Scott’s campaign team is going to remind voters of Nelson’s statement.

It started when the Scott campaign sent an email to reporters Thursday morning saying, “we have no words,” in response to Nelson’s comment. It continued Thursday afternoon when Governor Scott went to Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, which has significant damage caused by Hurricane Michael. Late Thursday evening, Scott’s office released a letter sent to President Donald Trump requesting immediate action to return Tyndall to full strength. 

“Now that I have visited Tyndall and seen the scope of the work ahead, I am requesting that you direct immediate action to dedicate the needed resources, manpower and funding to return Tyndall AFB to full operations as soon as possible,” Governor Scott said in his letter to President Trump. “You have my commitment that the State of Florida will do whatever possible to aid in this important mission.”

Tyndall not only serves a critical military mission, but it’s also a large economic driver in Bay County. Losing it, similar to what happened at Homestead Air Force Base following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, would further devastate that local economy. 

And here’s the problem for Nelson: though he toured the air force base late last week, and sent a letter to President Trump jointly signed by Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Neal Dunn – was that letter all that he could do?

 


Nelson sits on the Armed Services Committee. That very committee assignment gives him added weight in not just politely requesting the base be rebuilt but actually demanding that it be done. It’s one of the few instances Nelson, as a U.S. Senator, can impact the federal government’s response to the hurricane recovery. 

Nelson then went on to tell the Times, “they know to call me if they are getting any hiccups.”

Guess what Senator, the phones don’t work. And neither does much else one week after the hurricane. 

In his eagerness to return to the campaign, Sen. Nelson has given the Scott’s team an opening that builds on a narrative they’ve been pushing for months – that Nelson writes a letter, doesn’t do the follow-up and moves on to the next issue. 

Armed with millions of dollars to spend in the two and a half weeks before the election, look for Gov. Scott to beat Nelson over the head with this significant unforced error. 

David Bishop is a native Floridian, husband and father. During his 30 year career, David has been a journalist, political operative and communications consultant.