Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator

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Clarence William "Bill" Nelson

Current Location:: Orlando, Orange County, Florida, United States
Birthplace: Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Clarence William Nelson and Nannie Merle Nelson
Husband of <private> Nelson (Cavert)
Father of <private> Nelson and <private> Nelson

Occupation: Politician
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator

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 United States 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 and is seeking re-election in 2012.

Personal life

Nelson was born in Miami, the only child of Nannie Merle (née Nelson) and Clarence William Nelson. He spent his youth in Melbourne, Florida, where he attended Melbourne High School.

Nelson attended the University of Florida before transferring to Yale University. He subsequently received a law degree from the University of Virginia. 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.

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

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


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. 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.

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

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.

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.

Estate tax

On several occasions, Nelson has voted to reduce or eliminate the estate tax, 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.

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.

Health care

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. However, a Gallup poll indicated that 79% of Democrats approved of the legislation, with only 40% of all adults opposing the legislation.

Space exploration

Nelson is seen as a major supporter of the space program. In 2010 he proposed creating as many as “five business enterprise zones as magnets for commercial space ventures.” “The move is expected to attract thousands of jobs to Florida’s 'Space Coast' area around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.”

In March 2010 Nelson complained that Obama had made a mistake in canceling NASA's Constellation program. On July 7, 2011, Tom Parkinson reported that Nelson had said that Congress “starved” the space program of funding for several years, but suggested that the situation was turning around and called on the Obama Administration to push for NASA funding.

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.

Congressional term limits

Nelson does not support Congressional Term Limits.

2006 re-election campaign

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.

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; 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. 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. 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. 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. In February, it was learned that Harris had received $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions from defense contractor Mitchell J. Wade.

In April, a National Review editorial urged Harris to withdraw, arguing that she would unquestionably win the primary and lose the general election. 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.

Harris's campaign focused heavily on evangelical Christianity. 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" Nelson, meanwhile, focused on safe issues, portraying himself as a bipartisan centrist problem-solver. He obtained the endorsement of all 22 of Florida's daily newspapers. 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 House campaigns, did not endorse her in this race.

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

2012 re-election campaign

Biden has called Nelson crucial to President Obama's chances for winning Florida in 2012. Several possible 2012 challengers have emerged, but the only one who is widely seen as a real threat is Connie Mack IV (the son of Nelson's direct predecessor in the Senate). In March 2011, Vice President Joe Biden was reported as having said that if Nelson lost in 2012, “it means President Obama and the Democratic presidential ticket won't win the key battleground state, either....'He's a truly, truly decent guy who has the absolute respect of his colleagues, and I've heard that from both sides of the aisle,' Biden said of his former Senate colleague.”



On February 17, 2009, David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that Nelson was one of three lawmakers who “were returning campaign contributions from donors listed as employees of the PMA Group, a Washington lobbying firm whose founder is under investigation for purportedly funneling money through bogus donors.”

During his 2006 Senate campaign, according to the Open Congress website, Nelson “was accused of taking $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Riscorp, Inc....The Riscorp scandal involved dozens of Florida state legislators and was among the largest scandals in recent Florida history.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations

In November 2011, Ahmed Bedier, an activist linked to CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood, donated money to Nelson and co-hosted a fundraiser for him. Nelson's representatives later claimed that he “did not know about Bedier's relationship with CAIR” and that Bedier had exaggerated his closeness to the Senator. In November 2011 Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald wrote that the scandal over Bedier threatened the Jewish vote for Nelson, given that Bedier had called Israel a “terrorist state.” Caputo noted that while “Nelson has gone to great lengths to fashion himself as pro-Israel,” that wasn't enough for some conservative groups.

Committee assignments and Electoral history

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Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator's Timeline

September 29, 1942
Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States