Over the past century Florida has never elected a Republican in back-to-back U.S. Senate elections, making the Sunshine State somewhat of a rare bird.
Despite having a veritable stranglehold on the state legislature, and the fact that it will have held the Governor’s Mansion for 20 years by the time Rick Scott leaves office, the GOP has yet to string together consecutive victories for U.S. Senate, notes Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics.
The only other states that can claim the same are Montana and Hawaii, according to Ostermeier’s blog, the latter of which is young enough in its statehood that the trend hasn’t become generational.
It’s not like Florida Republicans have had a hard time winning statewide, either. One look at the governor and Cabinet, and a cursory glance at the campaign accounts of those looking to replace them next year, and it’s clear the Florida branch of the big tent party is suffering from an embarrassment of riches – RPOF simply outclasses FDP with its seemingly endless candidate bench, infinitely deep pockets, and perpetually motivated voters.
Of the 24 statewide races held in Florida since the turn of the century, GOP candidates have won 20. Nelson was the winner of three of those four, while former CFO Alex Sink holds the honor of being the only other Democrat since Walkin’ Lawton Chiles to win a statewide election.
And if it wasn’t for Chiles’ victory in his U.S. Senate contest against then-Congressman Bill Cramer, Republicans would have ended the streak back in 1970.
That election was decided by about 8 points. Not “close,” per se, but an examination of the half dozen opportunities Republicans had to put two of their own in the Senate since then certainly makes it look that way.
The first of those six wins came a decade later, when Paula Hawkins won in President Ronald Reagan’s landslide election in 1980. Two years later, Chiles won re-election by an astounding 24 points, cementing the legendary Florida Democrat’s reputation as a Cinderella smasher.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham also proved a thorn in Florida Republicans’ side. Connie Mack III’s win in 1988 was followed up by Graham’s 35-point beatdown of Bill Grant in 1992, while Charlie Crist was smacked with a 25-point loss by the former governor in the 1998 election, four years after Mack won re-election.
Former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Connie Mack IV earned their double-digit Ls from Nelson following victories by Mel Martinez in 2004 and Marco Rubio in 2010.
But the times, they are a-changin’.
Nelson isn’t as spry as he was when he came into the Senate as a fresh-faced 59-year-old who was only a little over a decade removed from from becoming the first member of congress in space.
And none of his opponents had the kind of goodwill Scott built up among Florida voters during his master class on how to prepare the state for a Hurricane. In fact a Scott candidacy, which is almost a guarantee, would be orders of magnitude more viable than the bids by Harris in 2004 and Mack in 2012.
Sure, many voters may have cast their ballots for the Florida transplant begrudgingly, especially in 2014, but there’s no political spectre so damaging or memorable as the 2000 presidential election snafu that put Harris on TV sets nationwide.
And Mack is just Mack. He was a better than serviceable congressman, but he pussyfooted around the idea of running too much and too publicly in 2012, while Nelson had higher favorables and had the innate benefit of being a Democrat in a presidential election year.
Those advantages disappear next year, and one of the Democrats’ only noteworthy streaks in Florida could disappear with them.