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Bill Nelson: cautious campaigner or practictioner of vanilla guide to government?

The world’s greatest deliberative body faces monumental decisions on issues ranging from crushing debt to nukes in Iran. But U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is more likely to be seen fighting monster snakes.

During 12 years in the Senate, the Florida Democrat has maintained a tight focus on the state, rarely missing an opportunity to exploit headlines or take up populist causes, whether sounding alarms over Burmese pythons in the Everglades or Chinese drywall or demanding pensions for ex-Negro League ballplayers in Tampa.

“He is a connoisseur of low-hanging fruit,” said Florida Republican strategist J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich. “The best way to win elections is to not do anything hard. Take the easy issue of the moment, kind of the effervescence, climb all over it and then wait for the next one. You can always find Bill Nelson on the side of the momentary majority, well down in front near the cameras.”

After former NFL players were arrested in Miami on charges of cashing fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks, Nelson traveled there this month to meet a victim. When debate heated up over extending low interest rates on student loans, Nelson visited college campuses in Gainesville and Tampa.

Toxic playgrounds? Nelson files bill to ban arsenic-treated wood. Cops shot in St. Petersburg? Nelson seeks funding for high-tech equipment that can “see through” walls. Newspaper story about high rents for military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base? Nelson demands congressional investigation. Gas prices up? Nelson calls for a crackdown on oil speculators. More here.

-- Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times

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