U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election efforts this year may yet prove successful but could siphon dollars to the Sunshine State that Democrats should spend elsewhere, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.
The Washington, D.C.-based institute today launched a series on its FixGov blog analyzing the most competitive Senate races in the nation. It started with Nelson’s battle against Republican challenger and two-term Gov. Rick Scott.
“This race is surprisingly close: Nelson’s status as an incumbent in the out-party during a midterm election in a presidential swing state would normally add up to a relatively secure re-election,” writes Gregory Koger.
But the race takes place in a swing state that President Donald Trump frequently visits and where he appears to be as popular as he was when he won Florida’s electoral votes in 2016.
The institute cites a Marist poll that shows health care and guns as leading issues for Democratic voters while immigration, health care, and foreign policy remain front-burner for GOP voters.
The analysis notes Florida as home of both the Pulse and Parkland shootings, along with the subsequent #MarchForOurLives movement, but it said that will only prove relevant if young people turn out in November.
Alternatively, the analysis notes the curveball thrown by Hurricane Michael. Polling shows most Floridians approve of Scott’s response as governor to the storm. Then again, the hurricane may suppress voting in the Panhandle, a reliably Republican part of the state.
And the natural disaster may spur on environmental voters, already agitated about red tide and blue-green algae. That likely helps Democrats.
So why would Nelson still be in trouble? Koger blames Nelson’s low profile in the Senate, combined with a variable and volatile population that erases some of the advantages for a three-term incumbent.
Additionally, as thousands of Puerto Rican voters fleeing the island after Hurricane Maria settled in Florida, Scott reached out to them directly.
But even more than the outcome of this particular contest, Brookings said the biggest impact the race could have nationally is as a resource drain. With Nelson spending upward of $20 million and Scott over $30 million, never mind outside spending, the race has been rich.
“This is already an expensive race, therefore, and Senate Democrats may regret having to spend so much of its national budget to shore up an incumbent who ought to be winning safely with funds he raised himself,” the analysis reads.