Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson
Bill Nelson
United States Senator
from Florida
Assumed office
January 3, 2001
Serving with Marco Rubio
Preceded by Connie Mack III
Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal of Florida
In office
January 3, 1995-January 1, 2000
Governor Lawton Chiles 1995-1998
Buddy MacKay 1998-1999
Jeb Bush 1999-2000
Preceded by Tom Gallagher
Succeeded by Tom Gallagher
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 11th district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1991
Preceded by Daniel A. Mica
Succeeded by Jim Bacchus
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 9th district
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1983
Preceded by Louis Frey
Succeeded by Michael Bilirakis
Member of the
Florida House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born September 29, 1942 (1942-09-29) (age 69)
Miami, Florida
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Grace Cavert Nelson
Children Bill Nelson, Jr.
Nan Ellen Nelson
Residence Orlando, Florida
Alma mater Yale University (B.A.)
University of Virginia (J.D.)
Religion Christian
Website Senator Bill Nelson
Military service
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1965-1968, 1970-1971 (Reserve)
1968-1970 (Active Duty)
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain

Clarence William "Bill" Nelson (born September 29, 1942) is the senior United States Senator from the state of Florida and a member of the Democratic Party. He is a former U.S. Representative and former Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida. In 1986, he became the second sitting member of the United States Congress to fly in space.

In 1972, Nelson was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He was re-elected in 1974 and 1976. Nelson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He served in the U.S. House from 1979 to 1991. In January 1986, he flew as a Payload Specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia. After a failed gubernatorial race in 1990, he successfully ran for the office of Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida in 1994 and served for six years. In 2000, Nelson ran for U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack. In the Senate he is generally considered a social moderate and economic liberal. He was re-elected in 2006 with 60 percent of the vote.[citation needed]


Personal life

Nelson was born in Miami, the only child of Nannie Merle Nelson and Clarence Nelson.[1] He spent his youth in Melbourne, Florida, where he attended Melbourne High School.[2]

Nelson attended the University of Florida before transferring to Yale University. He subsequently received a law degree from the University of Virginia.[3] In 1965, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve; he served on active duty from 1968 to 1970, attaining the rank of captain, and he remained in the Army until 1971. Nelson was admitted to the Florida bar in 1968, and began practicing law in Melbourne in 1970. In 1971, he worked as legislative assistant to Governor Reubin Askew.[3]

In 1972, Nelson married Grace Cavert. The couple has two adult children: Bill Nelson, Jr., and Nan Ellen Nelson.[2][4]

He was baptized as a Baptist, and grew up attending Baptist and Episcopal churches. In 2005, he joined the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.[5]


Clarence William "Bill" Nelson
NASA Payload Specialist
Nationality American
Born September 29, 1942
Miami, Florida
Current occupation U.S. Senator
Previous occupation Representative, U.S. House
Time in space 6d 02h 03m
Missions STS-61-C
Mission insignia STS-61-c-patch.png

In 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of Congress (and the first member of the House) to travel into space. He went through NASA training with Senator Jake Garn of Utah. He was a Payload Specialist on Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-61-C mission from January 12 to 18, 1986.

The primary objective of the mission was to deploy the Ku-1 communications satellite, second in a planned series of geosynchronous satellites owned and operated by RCA Americom. The deployment was successful. The flight also carried a large number of small experiments, including 13 GAS canisters devoted to investigations involving the effect of microgravity on materials processing, seed germination, chemical reactions, egg hatching, astronomy and atmospheric physics.

Columbia landed at Edwards AFB at 5:59 a.m. PST, on January 18. Mission elapsed time was 6 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes, 51 seconds. It was the last successful Space Shuttle flight before the Challenger accident, as the disaster occurred only 10 days after Columbia's return.

Political career

Florida legislature

In 1972, Nelson was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He won re-election in 1974 and 1976.[6]

U.S. House of Representatives

Nelson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He served in the U.S. House from 1979 to 1991.

Gubernatorial campaign

In 1990, Nelson ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Florida. He lost to former U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles, who went on to win the general election. During the primary campaign, Nelson tried to make an issue out of Chiles' health and age, a strategy that backfired on him in a state with a large population of retirees and senior citizens.

Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner

In 1994 Nelson announced his intention to seek the office of Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida. He won the election with 52% of the vote over State Rep. Tim Ireland's 48%. In 1998, he again defeated Ireland for his reelection to the office.

In 2000, Nelson resigned his post as Commissioner following his election to the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senate

In 2000, Nelson ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack. He won the election, defeating U.S. Representative Bill McCollum, who ran as the Republican candidate.

Political positions

Nelson's votes have tended to be more liberal than conservative. He has received high ratings from left-of-center groups such as Americans for Democratic Action, and low ones from right-of-center groups such as the Eagle Forum and the Club for Growth. According to ratings by the National Journal, Nelson's votes have been liberal on economic matters, moderate on social issues, and liberal but close to the center on foreign policy.[7]

Central America Free Trade Agreement

In 2005, Nelson was one of ten Democrats who voted in favor of the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on its 55-45 passage in the Senate;[8] Nelson's vote was cast despite opposition by special interests like the sugar lobby.[9]

Estate tax

On several occasions, Nelson has voted against his party to reduce or eliminate the estate tax,[10] notably in June 2006, when he was one of four Democrats voting for a failed (57-41) cloture motion on a bill to eliminate the tax.[11]

Withholding funding from the CIA

In 2007, Nelson was the lone Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee to vote against an amendment to withhold funds for CIA use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. His vote, combined with those of all Republican members of the committee, killed the measure.[12]


In March 2010, Nelson voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which passed and were signed into law by President Obama. A Mason-Dixon Florida poll indicated that the measure was opposed by a majority of those surveyed, and by nearly two-thirds of Florida voters aged 65 or older. The same poll showed Nelson's negative rating rising to 34%, from 16% at the time of his 2006 re-election.[13] However, a Gallup poll indicated that 79% of Democrats approved of the legislation, with only 40% of all adults opposing the legislation.[14]

Don't Ask Don't Tell

On December 18, 2010, Nelson voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.[15][16]

Congressional Term Limits

Nelson does not support Congressional Term Limits, and agrees with constitutional scholars who argue that term limits would limit the prerogative of the voters." [17]

2006 re-election campaign

Sen. Nelson works with government storm trackers during a hurricane-hunter flight into the center of Hurricane Charley in August 2004

Following the 2004 election, in which Republican George W. Bush was re-elected and the Republican party increased its majority in both the House and the Senate, Nelson was seen as vulnerable. He was a Democrat in a state that Bush had won, though by a margin of only five percentage points.[18]

Evangelical Christian activist James Dobson declared that such Democrats, including Nelson, would be "in the 'bull's-eye'" if they supported efforts to block Bush's judicial nominees;[19] and Nelson's refusal to support efforts in Congress to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case was seen as "a great political issue" for a Republican opponent to use in mobilizing Christian conservatives against him.[20] Florida governor Jeb Bush, precluded by term limits from seeking re-election in 2006, was suggested as an opponent who might secure Nelson's seat for the Republicans. [18]

Bush chose not to run for the seat. Katherine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State and two-term U.S. representative, defeated three other candidates in the September 5 Republican primary. Nelson was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Harris's role in the 2000 presidential election made her a polarizing figure. Many Florida Republicans were eager to reward her for her perceived party loyalty in the Bush-Gore election; many Florida Democrats were eager to vote against her for the same reason.[21] Harris's campaign was beset by difficulties: poor fundraising, a series of gaffes, and a high turnover of staff, including the loss of three campaign managers and of chief advisor Ed Rollins.[22] In February, it was learned that Harris had received $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions from defense contractor Mitchell J. Wade.[23]

In April, a National Review editorial urged Harris to withdraw, arguing that she would unquestionably win the primary and lose the general election.[24] In May, when the party found itself unable to recruit a candidate who could defeat Harris in the primary, many Republican activists admitted that the race was already lost.[25]

Harris's campaign focused heavily on evangelical Christianity.[26] In an August interview with Florida Baptist Witness, she declared: "[I]f you're not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin"[27] Nelson, meanwhile, focused on safe issues, portraying himself as a bipartisan centrist problem-solver.[21] He obtained the endorsement of all 22 of Florida's daily newspapers.[28] Harris failed to secure the endorsement of Jeb Bush, who publicly stated that she could not win; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had supported her in her congressional campaigns, did not endorse her in this race.[29]

As the election approached, polls showed Harris trailing Nelson by 26 to 35 points.[22] Nelson transferred about $16.5 million in campaign funds to other Democratic candidates,[30] and won the election with 60.4% of the vote to Harris's 38.2%.[31]

2012 re-election campaign

Committee assignments

Electoral history

Florida State House of Representatives election 1972 [32]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson 26,771 68.9
Republican David Vozzola 12,078 31.1
Florida 9th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1978
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson 89,543 61.5
Republican Edward J. Gurney 56,074 38.5
Florida 9th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1980
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson 139,468 70.4
Republican Stan Dowiat 58,734 29.6
Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1982
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson (Incumbent) 101,746 70.6
Republican Joel Robinson 42,422 29.4
Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1984
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson (Incumbent) 145,764 60.5
Republican Rob Quartel 95,115 39.5
Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1986
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson (Incumbent) 149,109 72.7
Republican Scott Ellis 55,952 27.3
Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1988
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson (Incumbent) 168,390 60.8
Republican Bill Tolley 108,373 39.2
Florida Governor, Democratic primary election 1990
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Lawton Chiles 745,325 69.5
Democratic Bill Nelson 327,731 30.5
Florida State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal election 1994
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson 2,070,604 51.7
Republican Tim Ireland 1,933,570 48.3
Florida State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal election 1998
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson (Incumbent) 2,195,283 56.5 +4.8
Republican Tim Ireland 1,687,712 43.5 -4.8
Florida U.S. Senate election 2000
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson 2,987,644 52.1
Republican Bill McCollum 2,703,608 47.2
Florida U.S. Senate election 2006
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Bill Nelson (Incumbent) 2,890,548 60.3 +9.8
Republican Katherine Harris 1,826,127 38.1


  1. ^ "Senator Bill Nelson". Florida 4-H Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
  2. ^ a b "Biography". U.S. Senator Bill Nelson - Florida (official U.S. Senate website). Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  3. ^ a b "Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)". Retrieved 2009-12-15.
  4. ^ "Florida's senior senator praises Martinez, stays quiet about possible candidates in 2010". U.S. Senator Bill Nelson - Florida (official U.S. Senate website). Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  5. ^ Stratton, Jim. "Nelson doesn't act like Christian, Harris says". Orlando Sentinel. 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  6. ^ "Bill Nelson". Washington Post:U.S. Congress Votes Database. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  7. ^ "Interest Group Ratings: Senator Bill Nelson, Sr. (FL)". Project Vote Smart. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  8. ^ Nichols, John. "Democrats for CAFTA". The Beat (blog at the Nation). 2005-07-05. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  9. ^ "Part 1 How Blunt Whipped CAFTA". American Crystal Sugar Company News Archive. 2005-09-06. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  10. ^ "Bill Nelson - Votes Against Party". Washington Post:U.S. Congress Votes Database. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  11. ^ Andrews, Edmund L. "G.O.P. Fails in Attempt to Repeal Estate Tax". New York Times. 2006-06-09. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  12. ^ Shane, Scott. "Senate Panel Questions C.I.A. Detentions". New York Times. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  13. ^ Cotterell, Bill. "Poll: Health-care plan, Nelson under fire in Florida". (Tallahassee Democrat website). 2010-03-28. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
  14. ^
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b "For Democrats in red states, 2006 daunting". Washington Times. 2004-11-29. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  19. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. "Evangelical Leader Threatens to Use His Political Muscle Against Some Democrats". New York Times. 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  20. ^ Allen, Mike, and Manuel Roig-Franzia. "Congress Steps In on Schiavo Case". Washington Post. 2005-03-20. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  21. ^ a b Gibson, William E."Senate Race Centers on Images". Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. 2006-10-20. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  22. ^ a b Copeland, Libby. "Campaign Gone South". Washington Post. 1006-10-31. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  23. ^ Babcock, Charles R. "Contractor Pleads Guilty to Corruption". Washington Post. 2006-02-25. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  24. ^ "A Time to be Wise". National Review editorial. 2006-04-10. Retrieved 2009-12-22.]
  25. ^ Kumar, Anita. "GOP can't elude Harris vs. Nelson".St. Petersburg Times. 2006-05-11. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  26. ^ Smith, Adam C. and Anita Kumar. "Harris puts her faith in religion". St. Petersburg Times. 2006-03-25. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  27. ^ "Katherine Harris". Florida Baptist Witness. 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  28. ^ Clark, Lesley. "Nelson goes 22-0". Naked Politics (Miami Herald blog). 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  29. ^ Kormanik, Beth. "Harris, Nelson tout testimonials". Florida Times-Union. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  30. ^ Gibson, William E. "Nelson Rolls To Second Term". Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. 2006-11-08. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  31. ^ Miller, Lorraine C. "Statistics of the Congressional Election of November 7, 2006". U.S. House of Representatives website. 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
  32. ^ Lawrence, D.G., "Democrats keep control of state legislature" Orlando Sentinel. 1972-11-08.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Louis Frey (R)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 9th congressional district

January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1983
Succeeded by
Michael Bilirakis (R)
Preceded by
Daniel A. Mica (D)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 11th congressional district

January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1991
Succeeded by
Jim Bacchus (D)
United States Senate
Preceded by
Connie Mack III (R)
United States Senator (Class 1) from Florida
January 3, 2001-
Served alongside: Bob Graham, Mel Martinez, George LeMieux, Marco Rubio
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Sam Brownback
Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences
January 4, 2007–present
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Hugh Rodham
Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Florida
(Class 1)

2000, 2006
Succeeded by
To be determined
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
Mike Crapo
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Tom Carper

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