By Jim Ellis
Jan. 14, 2021 — Regardless of how many in-cycle Senate seats – there are 34 in the 2022 election cycle – come into political play, we can count on seeing Florida and North Carolina once again hosting crucial battleground campaigns.
Florida is always consistent in their close vote totals, particularly when remembering the 2000 presidential campaign — and pollsters, while typically forecasting tight finishes, have often missed the outcomes. In fact, the cumulative polling community has predicted close Democratic victories in the last four key statewide elections: two presidential (2016 & 2020), one senatorial (2018), one gubernatorial (2018), and been wrong on each occasion.
Since 2016, inclusive, Florida has hosted eight statewide races with Republicans winning seven. Yet, their average cumulative vote percentage for these eight victorious campaigns was just 50.7 percent, with the high point being 52.0 percent (Sen. Marco Rubio-R, 2016). Democrats recorded the low winning total: 50.04 percent — 6,753 votes from 8,059,155 votes cast; agriculture commissioner, 2018; winner Nikki Fried (D) vs. Matt Caldwell (R). The aggregate average among the statewide contests in these three most recent election years is 50.7 – 47.9 percent in the GOP’s favor.
With this background, Sen. Rubio will presumably seek a third term next year against what will surely be a highly competitive Democratic opponent. At this point, most of the speculation surrounds two Democratic House members, neither of whom has closed the door on either running for the Senate or challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as he seeks a second term.
Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) and Val Demings (D-Orlando) are the two most prominently mentioned prospective contenders, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one run for Senate and the other for governor. It is less likely that we would see a primary developing between the pair in one of the races.
Other names being floated are Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg), who is always mentioned as a potential statewide candidate because he previously served both as attorney general and governor and lost two other statewide campaigns. Other potential contenders are Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) and former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Miami). The state’s lone Democratic office holder, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, is more often associated with running for governor as opposed to the Senate contest.
The North Carolina recent historical election results are equally as close. Here, we have seen 24 statewide campaigns conducted in the same three election years (2016 – 2020) with Republicans winning 16 from an average vote percentage of just 50.5 as compared to the Democrats’ 48.5 percent. While the GOP has won twice as many electoral contests as Democrats during the tested three-election year period, their cumulative average margin of victory is only two percentage points.
Sen. Richard Burr (D) has stated publicly on several occasions that he will not seek a fourth term in 2022. That being the case, former Rep. Mark Walker (R-Greensboro) — who was one of two congressional victims of a late decade state Supreme Court redistricting effort and didn’t seek re-election in 2020 — is an already announced Senate candidate.
Other potential contenders are former Rep. George Holding (R-Raleigh), the second GOP 2018 redistricting victim who also didn’t seek re-election, and ex-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest who posted 47 percent of the vote in the 2020 governor’s race.
Other Republicans being mentioned are Lara Trump, President Trump’s daughter-in-law, and Reps. Ted Budd (R-Advance) and Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte); but the latter two are more likely to remain in the House. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost his position in one of the state’s tightest elections to current incumbent Roy Cooper (D), is also included as a potential contender, but reports suggest that he is more likely to run again for governor in four years than launch a campaign for Senate.
Democrats, who have not fared as well in the statewide contests but who certainly have the ability to win especially with the state again sure to be one of the must-win contests for both parties, have fewer potential candidates. Attorney General Josh Stein, who survived a campaign-related contribution flap involving a company his office was investigating, is among the most prominent individuals listed on the Democratic potential candidate sheet. His 50.1 percent re-election victory in November, however, can hardly be considered impressive.
Former state Sen. Erica Smith, who was in the 2020 Senate Democratic primary and attracted attention only because right-of-center organizations were conducting a campaign on her behalf because they knew she would be easier to beat that former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, is again an announced Senate candidate. Other names being mentioned are former US Transportation Secretary and ex-Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, and Cheri Beasley, who just lost her position as State Supreme Court Chief Justice in the November election.
Newly elected US representative and former US Senate candidate Deborah Ross is also on the potential Senate candidate list. Upon just winning her House seat, it is unlikely she would so quickly jump into another statewide campaign. Yet, for all of the House members in both parties, much depends on redistricting and how the new seats (North Carolina is expected to gain one CD in reapportionment) are drawn. The re-draw process will contribute heavily toward telling us who enters the Senate race and who does not.
In any event, we can expect both Florida and North Carolina to again be at the battleground forefront and will be two of the contests that will likely break the newly formed Senate 50-50 tie.