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Nelson brings in the cash

Bill Nelson has more campaign cash than everyone but Hillary Clinton. And he’s not done yet.

Published August 21, 2006

His likely Republican opponent has been shedding staff like a cat sheds hair, and she trails him in the polls by double digits.

His campaign bank account is fatter than any other senator’s, save one. And even in a state that’s been veering Republican, polls show most voters don’t take much issue with their Democratic senator.

But don’t try to tell Bill Nelson.

For all the missteps and mystifying behavior by Rep. Katherine Harris, his presumed opponent for November’s election, the senator is quietly running as if he’s behind, raising money for himself and his party almost daily and working voters in rural counties in central Florida and the Panhandle, where Democrats have been weakest.

“He may have a nothing opponent, but he’s still got to win this thing, and it would help him in the long run to win it big, and with some money still in the bank,’’ said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, who analyzes U.S. Senate races.

Nelson’s campaign has just over $12-million in the bank, according to new fund-raising reports released Monday.

That’s more than any senator facing reelection except Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who is expected to run for president. She has about $22-million.

Harris had $2.3-million as of June 30, after injecting $2.9-million of her own money. Her campaign declined to release the campaign report that needed to be postmarked by Monday.

A recent poll by the St. Petersburg Times put Nelson 35 percentage points ahead. And while Harris led the field of Republican candidates, only 28 percent of likely Republican primary voters backed her. Almost half were undecided.

But nothing is certain, particularly four months before an election during volatile times. Nelson, 63, is the state’s only statewide elected Democrat, and Republicans once thought he could be easily ousted.

“In politics, there’s only two ways to run: scared or unopposed,’’ said Chad Clanton, Nelson’s campaign manager. “We take nothing for granted and we aren’t letting up one bit. We’re just getting started.’’

Dan Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida, said if Nelson still has a commanding lead when the general election race gels in October, national Democratic leaders will expect him to contribute to their effort to retake the Senate.

In a modest way, he has already begun. His political action committee, Moving America Forward, has given $82,200 to Democratic challengers in key Senate races. His PAC also has given $10,000 to the Florida Democratic Party and $40,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which aids Senate campaigns.

Contributing: Anita Kumar

[Last modified August 21, 2006, 22:14:57]

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