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Nelson: Gun debate helps Democrats on 2018 Florida ballot

February 22, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The debate over guns, the “me too” movement against sexual misconduct and the federal government’s handling of hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico will give Florida Democrats victories up and down the November ballot, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson predicted during a meeting with state House Democrats on Thursday.

Nelson added that two special elections in Florida this year in which Democrats flipped Republican-held seats is further proof that Democrats are poised to have a strong election year.

“You stir that all into the mix — and who knows what else is going to happen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue between now and November — and I think there is... a movement,” Nelson told House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz. “These issues are going to help Democrats.”

Nelson, a Democrat, is also on the ballot in November, seeking his fourth term. He’s likely to face a challenge by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Before the meeting, Nelson said Scott showed a lack of leadership by not attending a televised town hall meeting to discuss the school shootings that left 17 dead in Parkland.

He told House members that the outcry after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shootings is going to have an effect in the elections.

“They are invigorated. It’s just amazing ... the energy, the passion that we’re seeing,” Nelson said

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also said the way that politicians respond to the Parkland shooting will have repercussions in this fall’s elections.

“It depends on what they do,” Rubio told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “There is an expectation that something has to change and action needs to be taken.”

But he also said the National Rifle Association has the ability to mobilize voters who support gun rights.

“There are voters who feel very strongly about this and will vote on this,” Rubio said. “I think that is an electoral factor as well that I would not ignore in terms of this debate.”

Nelson told Cruz the debate will help all Democrats on the ballot.

“It’s going to bring you more legislators,” he said. “If you get to the point where even if you don’t win the majority, but you’re close in the Senate, it’s going to be a whole new ballgame. Then the next election in ’20, the Florida Senate will flip.”

Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Legislature for more than two decades, and right now Democrats only hold 15 of the 40 Senate seats and 41 of the 120 House seats. But Cruz said Democrats are in a position to begin turning that tide, especially because of the gun debate.

“If I were a Republican today, I would be worried. I believe there is no safe seat anymore,” she said.

Republican Senate President Joe Negron didn’t seem too concerned.

“My focus is on policy right now,” he said when told about Nelson’s predictions. “There will be a time and place for campaigns and politics, and that’s not today.”

But he added that if Republicans take voters’ concerns seriously and act appropriately, they will be rewarded at the polls.

“If we all do the right things and we follow through on our promises and commitments and we maintain our allegiance to the Constitution, I think we’ll be just fine,” Negron said.

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Associated Press Writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.

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