By Jim Ellis
Sept. 5, 2017 — Last week, Florida Atlantic University released new survey research data (Aug. 25-26; 800 registered Florida voters via online questioning and telephone automated response) that tested the Sunshine State electorate about the impending Senate contest between three-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R).
Though we haven’t seen numbers here for months, the FAU data shows little has changed since the last surveys were released. Accordingly, Sen. Nelson tops Gov. Scott by only a 42-40 percent margin, meaning a virtual tie. Close races are nothing new in Florida, as we all know, so the polling results seem plausible.
Gov. Scott is not yet an official Senate candidate and repeatedly says he is no hurry to make a decision. But, the Florida political establishment and other prospective candidates believe he is going to run, which explains why there is so little activity around a Democratic incumbent who could be vulnerable.
Through his first term, the governor had been routinely plagued with poor job approval ratings but still managed to win a close 2014 re-election battle against former governor and now Congressman Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg). Though the FAU poll did not publicize candidate favorability ratios, previous 2017 studies found the governor’s index significantly rebounding into positive territory. It is likely Gov. Scott is sustaining a positive image, since he continues run close to Sen. Nelson on the ballot test question.
With the Florida primary not scheduled until Aug. 28, 2018, and no serious Republican opposition on the political horizon, Gov. Scott can take as much time as he wants to enter the race. The fact that his personal wealth breaks into nine figures also gives him the luxury of not having to quickly raise millions of dollars in early campaign funds.
Sen. Nelson, who will be 76 at the time of the next election and has what will be 30 years of congressional service, repeatedly says he is running for a fourth term. The Florida race will be a premier Senate match-up, and would be a huge Republican conversion victory if Gov. Scott can score the mild upset.
Florida Atlantic also recorded responses about the upcoming open governor’s campaign. Competitive primaries are building in both parties, and it is sure the end result will again be a political photo finish.
On the Republican side, state agriculture commissioner and former US Congressman Adam Putnam (R-Lakeland) tops the field of candidates with 27 percent support. He is the top money raiser, as well. In second position, with just a little over one-third of Putnam’s support at 10 percent is state House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Pasco County). US Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm City/Daytona Beach) and state Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Bartow) follow with nine and two percent, respectively. Corcoran and DeSantis are unannounced potential gubernatorial contenders.
For the Democrats, trial attorney John Morgan, who advertises heavily in the state, is the early race leader but has just 19 percent support. Former US Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) follows with 14 percent, ahead of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s nine percent. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has eight percent backing, just ahead of real estate investor and developer Chris King’s four percent.
The 2018 Florida governor’s race has greater national importance than usual because the victor will carry the redistricting veto pen for the new congressional and state legislature boundaries to be drawn after the 2020 census. With the Sunshine State possibly earning an additional two seats from the census formula, it is clear that this particular governor’s contest could help determine which party holds or gains the US House majority come the 2022 elections, and beyond.
Since the famous razor-thin 2000 presidential election that was decided by just 537 votes in the Sunshine State, Florida politics has rarely disappointed. And, it appears the state’s electorate is poised to deliver another set of close campaign results once more in 2018.