Okay, we’re going to play a game. I’ll name off a list of clues, and you have to decide which state they’re describing. If you already read the title, just humor me:
The “Trump factor.” Two diverging, competitive statewide races. Occasionally exciting candidates. Hurricane Michael. Disney World.
If your guess was “Florida,” congratulations!
Since the beginning of this election cycle, the Sunshine State has been in the national spotlight, and for good reason. But with the midterms now 14 days away, we have more questions than ever.
Governor vs. Senate: Who’s Actually Ahead?
Perhaps the biggest reason Florida’s garnered so much attention is because it’s basically the only state this year with two close races, as the contests for both governor and Senate appear to be neck-and-neck. The most interesting thing, though, is that they appear to be moving in opposite ways.
Most of the major polls released show a considerable gap between the performance of the candidates in these races. While the race for governor seems more favorable for Democrats, the Senate race is much closer. Indeed, the race swings toward Republicans almost every time. Even then, though, the difference from poll-to-poll varies greatly.
So, what’s to explain for all this? There are three dominant theories — Hurricane Michael, the “Trump factor,” and enthusiasm.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, candidates took time away from campaigning to assess the damage and help recovery efforts. While all four contenders in both races took similar steps, they saw different results.
The consensus appears to be that Republican Senate candidate (and outgoing governor) Rick Scott gained the most support from his post-Michael efforts. But new polls haven’t exactly reflected that, with his margins against Democrat Bill Nelson staying steady. Contrarily, similar discussion isn’t really happening for the governor race.
Thus, the argument is this: Florida’s Senate race is closer than the governor race because Hurricane Michael “helped” the Republican Senate candidate, and didn’t affect either contender for governor.
We don’t have enough data to assess how accurate that is yet, but time will tell.
The Trump Factor
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump carried Florida by just over 100,000 votes, or 1.2%. The president’s reputation in the state has always been contentious, and the Republicans in these two races realize it.
Ron DeSantis, the GOP vying for Governor, is a fervent Trump supporter. During the primaries, he famously released a campaign ad showing the role the President plays in the DeSantis family life. You should seriously take thirty seconds to watch this, by the way.
Rick Scott, on the other hand, has a less Trump-heavy strategy: keep away from him. Rather than have the president at arm’s length, Scott has intentionally partnered with older, more “traditional” Republican leaders, like George W. Bush.
What’s happening here? The president’s approval rating in the state is toeing the line between positive and negative. Most believe that DeSantis and Scott don’t have a definite read on which way that support goes, so they’ve chosen divergent strategies.
Is the Senate race more favorable for the Republican because Scott has chosen the “correct” game plan? Maybe. After all, GOP Representative Mark Sanford lost his House primary this summer, mainly because he didn’t like Trump. The difference here is that Trump’s approval in South Carolina’s 1st congressional district was higher than it is in Florida.
In the end, though, tying oneself to the president (or distancing oneself from him) may not be enough to completely swing a race in an area where he isn’t that well-received. Again, only time will tell.
The final theory about the closeness of these elections has to do with the nature of the candidates. Simply put, the gubernatorial contenders are interesting, and the Senate ones aren’t.
Looking back at the polls, Andrew Gillum has clearly gained a lot of ground over Ron DeSantis in the governor race. Most believe the reason behind this is Gillum’s energizing nature: if elected, he would become Florida’s first African American governor; he’s charismatic; he won August’s primary in an upset. People want to vote for him.
The Senate race tells a different story. Both Nelson and Scott and older, long-time politicians who are often deemed boring. As a result, we very well could be seeing an enthusiasm gap, leading some people to vote for both Rick Scott (a Republican) in one race, and Andrew Gillum (a Democrat) in another.
Sound weird? Well, Florida is a purple state.
The ends of these pieces usually come to a similar answer, and unfortunately, this one is no different. The gap between Florida’s Senate and Governor races likely is a combination of many factors, and we’re not really sure which ones reign supreme.
Exit polls on election day may be the only way we can ever truly know.