With early voting beginning Monday in some Florida counties, the Senate race there was jolted as Republican Gov. Rick Scott kept up the pressure on Sen. Bill Nelson’s thus-far unsubstantiated claims that Russian operatives have already compromised Florida elections.
In the hotly contested race, Democratic Sen. Nelson’s comments seemed to dovetail with the narrative of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections —international shenanigans many in the American intelligence community have concluded were real.
But Mr. Nelson’s pointed remarks triggered a storm of protest not only from his Republican challenger, Mr. Scott, but from other Florida officials, too.
Mr. Scott spent the weekend hammering Mr. Nelson for his claims last Tuesday that “Russians are in Florida’s elections records,” and that they had “already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”
The senator offered no specifics or evidence for his bombshell, and when pressed to do so demurred on the ground it was “classified.”
Since then, Mr. Scott’s campaign has repeatedly accused Mr. Nelson of either fabricating his accusation to play off inchoate fears of Russian election hacking, or breaking the law by revealing classified information.
Mr. Nelson’s office released a statement late Friday claiming the Scott campaign was seeking to exploit a serious situation for political gain, but other than that, the three-term senator has been so invisible that state media published a story Monday afternoon headlined, “Where is Bill Nelson?”
The Nelson campaign has not offered any information buttressing his charges, either in regards to its source or the specific counties allegedly affected, and late Monday referred questions about them back to his Washington office. However, the campaign disputed the idea the senator had gone underground in a close race, saying he had appearances in the state’s Panhandle region on Monday.
Early Monday evening, the Nelson campaign sent out another notice that the senator would make additional appearances Tuesday in northern Florida, but remained mute on the biggest topic roiling the race.
After Mr. Scott spent the past 72 hours ripping into Mr. Nelson’s vague charges on television and in campaign e-mail blasts, the National Republican Senate Committee jumped in Monday saying the 75-year-old senator “can’t hide forever and Floridians deserve an explanation now.”
Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner also continued to press for evidence, although a Monday deadline he set for more information from Washington appeared to pass without a response.
Mr. Detzner and other state officials have vociferously disputed Sen. Nelson’s claim, saying they know of no such penetrations of the state’s electoral security systems.
In a letter sent Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wren, Mr. Detzner said the allegations are without foundation.