Friday, August 10, 2018

Florida U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

88 Days Until Election Day

Florida U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

If Democrats have any hope at all of winning control of the U.S. Senate, they simply must defend this seat. The map for them is tough enough without it and the party likely was not anticipating that Florida could be such a marquis race this cycle. At this moment, the race is a true tossup that could go either way. Polling tends to even show a slight Republican lead. That has been with a larger financial advantage on behalf of the presumptive GOP nominee that might be the case at the end though. If the Democrats have a very good night across the country, they will probably hold on here.

Senator Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term in office as he enters his late 70s. While successful politically,  the Democrat has never had a huge profile at home in a way that other Florida politicians have and has been described as fairly bland. This is despite the fact that he can brag that he visited outer space in 1986, when serving as a U.S. Congressman. His two reelections to the Senate have come against flawed Republican nominees who struggled to say relevant and Nelson was able to take appropriate advantage.

Some have assumed that would be the case in 2018 as well .Ever since his narrow reelection as Governor, the term limited Republican set his sights on running for the Senate, rather Nelson sought a second term or not. Throughout his time a Governor, Scott had a pretty middling approval rating and many considered him lucky to have twice won razor-thin one point victories for Governor, which is an office that Republicans have won consistently up until now. He was able to overcome a past chapter involving his tenure as a hospital corporation CEO which became involved in Medicare fraud to upset both the Republican establishment choice for Governor and then the Democrats. His past as a businessman became a major issue in both of his Gubernatorial victories.

Scott's name recognition and checkbook was at the level that no serious Republican would dare mount a primary challenge agaisnt him for the Senate, but the general consensus was that he would be an underdog against Nelson.

After raising some eyebrows in 2016 by cozying up to Donald Trump in a state where both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were seeking the Republican nomination, the election itself of Trump has led Scott to become more measured in his support, and has certainly been less vocally praiseful as his likely GOP successor for the Gubernatorial nomination has been. The past year has also seen Scott improve his political profile and his poll numbers improve. While he can come across as an awkward politician, who is not smooth in his vocal delivery, he also has impressed upon the citizens of his state that he is extremely hard-working. As the economy of Florida has improved, Scott has gotten marks for competence and many observers have remarked that he has gotten better as a first-time office holder in working with others to achieve objectives. His handling of several natural disasters in Florida has been seen as strong and in the aftermath of this year's school shooting in Broward County, he led the effort for some moderate gun control efforts and other school safety measures. These steps will not please the gun control activists on the left, but he did show a willingness to go further than other Republicans, including Donald Trump have, and exhibited some independence from the NRA which had previously graded him as A plus.

There has also been a bit of a subtle (or perhaps I should say stubble change) that I have noticed in the past few months with Scott. While the man is definitely bald on top, he has started growing out the hair on the sides of his head a bit instead of rocking a completely slick dome. He looks more like a businessman now and less like a tall, skinny, creepy Mr. Clean.

In addition to the gun issue, Scott has stated that he disagrees with the Administration's policy on child desperation at the border, which was very controversial a couple of months ago and has now been scuttled. In spite of all this, Scott will wear his party label and the association with Donald Trump on him as he seeks federal office in a midterm year. Many have wondered if the Puerto Ricans who fled severe damage in Hurricane Maria to become new Florida residents will vote in a way that will further disadvantage Republicans. Data has yet to indicate a strong voter registration effort though and recent polls have shown Scott doing fairly well, for a Republican, with Hispanic voters, including non-Cuban Americans. His competence in dealing with the storms that have threatened Florida are part of the reason , and he might just be more well-known and visible than Bill Nelson, who spends a lot of time in Washington D.C, is.

Nelson has tried to use the gun control issue against Scott,but is also leery of going too far on the issue in a purple state like Florida. All the traditional issues that divide the parties will be at play here and outside groups will be heavily involved. Scott has spent a lot of money on ads and other ways to improve his image with Floridians and it seems to be paying off, as most polls have shown him with a very narrow lead on Nelson. The attacks against Scott though are likely to come down the road in the campaign homestretch and Democrats will hope the Governor is put back on the defensive. Nelson made some headlines this week by making a pretty serious but unsubstantial claim that Russians have already penetrated voting systems in Florida. This is clearly an issue on the minds of the Democrat base, but Nelson will eventually be expected to produce some evidence to back up the claim.

It just might be that despite Senate incumbency and a polarizing President that people want to vote against, that Scott can win this race against a politically out of shape Nelson. The Governor has shown an ability to win very close races in his state, and if he were seeking another term, would be the favorite with probably some points to spare this time. Instead, as I spoke about in yesterday's write-up, Democrats might wind up with the edge over a very Trumpian GOP nominee. Trump, who of course has Mar-A-Lago is likely to want to return to Florida to have rallies ahead of the midterms several times between now and November and that might leave Scott in a bit of an awkward position.

Until there is ample evidence to suggest though that Nelson has the kind of political problems that are impossible to survive, this race is still a tossup, and in those kinds of races, incumbents, which Nelson is in this case, usually are the ones who survive, and unless all conventional wisdom regarding how anti-Trump sentiment will lead to a good night for Democrats in marginal areas is wrong, it would be a mistake to cast a bet against Nelson prevailing.

If somehow though, I wind up being wrong and Republicans win both the Governorship and pick up the Senate seat of a veteran Democrat with Donald Trump being quite visible, that is a sign that the Sunshine State might be out of reach for Democrats in any prime contest.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 4 D (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Tossup), 1 R (1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
27 D (23 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Tossup), 43 R (42 holdovers, 1 Tossup)


At 1:48 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Scott has this in the bag!


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