The National Republican Senatorial Committee is hoping to tie anger about the toxic algae bloom that has fouled waters in the Treasure Coast to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat the GOP wants to knock off when he seeks re-election in 2018.
Starting today, commuters driving past Interstate 95 at 10th Avenue near exit 64 will see a billboard urging them to “TELL BILL NELSON: Do more to fix Florida’s algae crisis.”
Nelson authored legislation that was passed into law in 2014 to direct $82 million for research into the causes and control of algae blooms and to give additional resources to communities affected by them.
The senator has also sponsored legislation that would, for the first time, pave the way for states and local communities hit hard by algae blooms to get federal assistance.
That legislation passed the Senate’s Commerce Committee in May. The Senate’s GOP leadership will determine when it is brought to the floor.
Nelson, first elected to the Senate in 2000 after a stint in the U.S. House of Representatives, could face Gov. Rick Scott in what would be an expensive, all-out battle Democrats can’t afford to lose if they have any hope of recapturing a majority in the Senate.
The GOP is already at work softening up Nelson.
“After 40 years in Congress, Bill Nelson has only reinforced his ineffectiveness as a lawmaker,” NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin said. “Floridians deserve a senator who will win the fight to fix the algae crisis, and decades have proven that Bill Nelson isn’t the man for the job.”
An algae outbreak curdled sections of the St. Lucie River in 2016, damaging businesses and angering residents who blamed Lake Okeechobee discharges for the smelly bloom.
State lawmakers passed a plan this year that would have the state store water south of Lake Okeechobee as a means of eliminating the discharges and, they hope, the algae spread.
For his part, Nelson is aware he has a political target on his back.
His campaign sent out a fundraising pitch Thursday mentioning Scott and President Donald Trump.
“CNN has ranked Florida’s Senate race as one of the most competitive races in the country next year,” the campaign pitch read. “And just last week, Gov. Rick Scott and Donald Trump met in New Jersey to begin plotting their campaign against Bill Nelson.”
The campaign said “a generous group of donors has stepped up big time and has offered to MATCH every donation we receive this week.”
“With Trump personally recruiting Scott to be his rubber stamp in the Senate, we CANNOT afford to waste this extraordinary opportunity to have your donation DOUBLED – making every dollar you give go TWICE as far – but time is running out.”
The donation match ended on Friday, but Nelson’s fight for re-election is only just warming up.