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Nelson Re-Election a Major Focus for Democrats

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File photo of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. (Photo by Chris Livingston/Getty Images)

File photo of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. (Photo by Chris Livingston/Getty Images)

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Sen. Bill Nelson doesn’t want supporters to be fooled by his fundraising advantage over Republican frontrunner Connie Mack the IV.

While Nelson has about $11 million in his campaign account compared to more than a $1 million for Mack, he reminded Democratic Party activists that outside groups have already spent millions attacking him.

“What we’re going to have to do about it is be smarter, more efficient and we’re going to have to put the shoe leather to the street,” Nelson told about 1,000 Democrats Saturday at the state party’s annual fundraising dinner.

While the presidential election is grabbing all the attention, Nelson’s re-election tops the list of state races. He used much of his time talking about the influence outside groups and their money will have on the election.

“This is a time of extraordinary outside money coming into Florida to try to buy certain elections,” Nelson said before the dinner. “When this kind of money can come in to influence — and coming from billionaires — it’s obvious they’re not interested in Florida, they’re interested in their own particular agenda. And that is what is different about this year, and we’ve never seen it like this.”

Pete Mitchell, Nelson’s Senate chief of staff who will head the re-election campaign beginning Monday, estimates outside groups already have spent about $14 million attacking Nelson.

“Citizens United has created a whole new paradigm in the political world,” Mitchell said, referring to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows limitless political donations from corporations, labor unions and the wealthiest Americans.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents a South Florida district in the U.S. House, said Florida is a competitive state and that’s why Nelson is a target.

“There’s a handful of billionaires that are trying to buy their way to power,” she said. “They’re trying to buy the White House, they’re trying to buy the Republicans a majority in the United States Senate. If they can distort Senator Nelson’s record and do it in a way that’s opaque and unaccountable and non-transparent, then democracy loses and so will Floridians.”

Nelson is seeking his third term. Mack is considered a shoo-in in the Republican primary after most of the major candidates have dropped out. With about a month to go before the Aug. 14 primary, he is far ahead in polls and in fundraising over former Congressman Dave Weldon and Mike McCalister, who has never held political office.

Saturday night was a major address for Nelson, who so far has kept most of his campaign activity behind the scenes with fundraising and organization. He hasn’t been holding public political events.

“That’s the approach he’s taking. He’s showing up for work,” said Mitchell, who added that Nelson would do more public campaigning after Labor Day, when the primary and Republican and Democratic national conventions are over.

Democrats are also hoping to pick up legislative seats and regain lost ground in Congress, where they are outnumbered by Republicans 19-6 in the U.S. House. Florida will add two House seats this year and Democrats are targeting a handful of Republican incumbents. Otherwise, Nelson’s seat is the only statewide Florida office on the November ballot.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said that Mack has so far underperformed as a candidate, but outside groups that back Republicans as well as the national GOP are targeting Nelson.

“I don’t want to be lured into this confidence that’s just not justified about money because they’re going to have all the money they need in one or more mechanisms in ways that we never had seen before,” Smith said. “They’re going to play here and play strong.”

He said the Supreme Court decision will eventually be seen as the most divisive and nonsensical decisions of the time, and it’s not healthy for democracy.

“When 10 or 12 people can sit together and say ‘We’re going to give $100 million’ — think how many working people it would take to line up to ever reach that number,” Smith said.

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bsfarrington
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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