By Hastings Wyman –
Florida is the largest swing state in the nation, and it usually anoints the winner by a narrow margin, be it George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. The state is a mainstay of the GOP’s strong base in the South, with its 29 electoral votes second only to Texas’ 38.
Thus both parties have a major stake in statewide and congressional victories in the Sunshine State on Nov. 6. The Democrats, in short, want to turn Florida Blue. The GOP hopes to hold on to the all-important governor’s mansion and to gain a US Senate seat by defeating 18-year incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Moreover, several congressional districts currently in Republican hands may or may not look promising for Democrats, who hope to gain control of the US House of Representatives.
But the best-laid plans of both parties can easily go astray. Polls show Democrat Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, not only ahead of the GOP’s nominee, US Rep. Ron DeSantis, but increasing his lead with each voter survey. They also show that Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s challenge to Nelson is getting weaker in polls.
Looking first at the governor’s race, the latest Real Clear Politics (RCP) average of recent polls shows Democrat Gillum ahead of Republican DeSantis (R) by 47% to 43%. The most recent survey, taken by Quinnipiac, shows Gillum with 54% to DeSantis’ 45%.
Gillum has some high-profile support on the left. He’s been endorsed by Bernie Sanders and is receiving financial support from liberal California billionaire Tom Steyer. Later this month, he will be campaigning with Hillary Clinton.
Susan MacManus, distinguished professor emerita at the University of South Florida, says, “Age and race are producing a new electorate, younger, more diverse… Younger voters are more liberal, more driven by issues… Gillum has an Obama-like appeal to younger voters. He would be a sharp change. And he has a strong ground organization.”
MacManus concludes, “If Gillum wins, I wouldn’t be surprised. I would be more surprised if DeSantis wins.”
There are doubters, however. “I’m still not convinced that Gillum can win,” says long-time Florida pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Research. “He is far more liberal than any Democrat elected statewide in the last 20 years. Plus he has some ethical problems.”
DeSantis’ campaign has gotten off to an unimpressive start. “DeSantis was not prepared to win,” says Tallahassee-based political analyst Barney Bishop. “He’s still forming his policy papers. His commercials are average. His campaign is lackluster.” Bishop does not write off DeSantis’ prospects, however. ““He hired a new campaign manager, Susie Wiles, who was Rick Scott’s
chairman and Trump’s chairman in Florida. She might be able to turn it around.” And a long-time GOP operative points out that Gillum didn’t get attacked by his rivals in the primary, probably because he was the only African American in the race. The hands-off policy probably won’t last.
In any case, should Gillum win, his liberal stance, coupled with his race, would represent a massive shift in the Sunshine State’s politics and give a leg-up to Democrats in the 2020 presidential election. “Republicans can’t afford to lose Florida,” says Bishop, “because they will need it for Trump in 2020.”
The US Senate contest is not as high profile as the gubernatorial race, in part because both of the candidates are fixtures in the state’s politics. Nelson, 76, has not been an imposing national figure, but with an image as neither too liberal nor too conservative, he has stayed the course with Florida voters. Scott has won two statewide races, both by narrow margins. With deep pockets, he has shown he will spend what it takes to win.
The RCP average of recent polls gives Nelson (D) a razor-thin lead of 45% to Scott’s (R) 44%. However, Quinnipiac’s latest poll showed Nelson with 53% to Scott’s 46%, suggesting a trend toward Nelson.
Scott, 66, does have some problems “with red tide on the West Coast and green algae in inland waterways,” says Coker. They both affect tourism and the environment; Scott’s answer, which may or may not appeal to voters, is that the red tide is a naturally re-occurring phenomenon and that the algae is a result of runoff releases from Lake Okeechobee, which the Federal government controls. MacManus says Scott has been hurt “a little bit” by red tide and algae bloom. She adds, however, that “Republican challengers in the primary ran okay in southwest Florida,” where the red tide is occurring.
“Scott tends to win by two points,” says the GOPer. “It’s too-close-to-call. His entire career has been that way.”
The congressional contests show little evidence of a marked trend toward either party; the Democrat or the Republican could win either race in South Florida. In the 26th District (Miami-Dade, etc.), US Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) has a close lead over non-profit professional Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D), 47% to 44%. And in the 27th District (Miami-Dade, etc.), where US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) is retiring, the GOP’s Maria Elvira Salazar, 56, a former Spanish-language broadcast journalist and a Cuban-American, is more or less even with the early favorite, Donna Shalala, 77, a former Clinton era cabinet member, a seat the Democrats had been counting on. Several other congressional races could also be close.
As for the overall outlook, “The election will depend on Trump’s ability to rally rural and small town folks to come out and vote,” says Bishop. “Ultimately I give the edge to the Republicans, because they have experience in winning elections.”
“I still think those (statewide) races are still toss-ups,” says pollster Coker. “I just kind of see the Senate and governor’s races as very fluid.”
Is there a Blue Wave? “That’s what the Republicans fear,” says MacManus.
“There’s zero evidence of a Blue Wave,” says the Republican operative. Then adds, “No Red Surge either… It’s a margin of error in both races.” He adds, “Voter registration has been good for the GOP since Trump was elected,” but he notes that a growing number of voters are registering as “no-party.”
As for the highly contentious confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court, opinions are mixed. “If Kavanaugh wins, then you will see Scott and DeSantis win” says our Republican source. “If he goes South, it would help Democrats suppress the GOP base.”
“Once there’s a completion of the process, Democrats will use it as a wedge issue to motivate their base,” says Bishop.
Political scientist MacManus says the Kavanaugh controversy might motivate suburban women, “who are swing voters,” thus help Democratic candidates.
Five more weeks to Stay tuned!!!