Avi Mediratta is a Senior and VPR's Editor-in-Chief. He is from Orlando, FL and is majoring in Economics and Human and Organizational Development. His political interests include education policy, labor and employment, and international relations. He also enjoys chocolate milk.
Florida has historically been a battleground state in politics, and this year is no exception. President Obama carried this state in 2008 and 2012, but President Trump took it in 2016. A mix of Southerners, Northeastern transplants, and Hispanic immigrants, Florida has been a political wildcard for much of its recent history, which makes voting in a Florida election extremely important for the entire nation. Here are the races to watch this Tuesday.
In this year’s Senate race, incumbent Bill Nelson (D) is being challenged by the term-limited governor Rick Scott (R). For years, Nelson has represented Florida in the Senate alongside Marco Rubio (R), splitting Florida’s Senate representation between Republicans and Democrats. That could change if Rick Scott successfully ousts Nelson from his Senate seat.
Bill Nelson (D) is the only statewide elected Democrat serving in Florida. In a state that Trump carried in 2016, Nelson hopes to defend his Senate seat against a growing wave of conservatism in the state. Political pundits identify him as a vulnerable Democratic Senator in this election, especially considering his moderate tendencies. On his campaign site, he advertises himself as a moderate who wishes to bridge the partisan divide that exists in the nation today. He served as a payload specialist for NASA in 1986, and is one of the only lawmakers to have gone to space. He has a reputation for being one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, but even so, he has voted with the Democratic party at a rate of 89% over the course of his tenure in the Senate.
Rick Scott (R) is the governor of Florida, and in this Senate race he has been campaigning for jobs on behalf of Floridians. One of the most important tactics in his campaign has been to appeal to Hispanic voters, and he sometimes issues public statements in Spanish. Since Hispanic voters make up a sizeable chunk of the Floridian electorate, Republicans in the state have made a concerted effort to appeal to these voters, even though Trump’s anti-immigrant policy proposals and nativist rhetoric have created a rift between the Republican party and Hispanic voters. As such, Rick Scott has tried not to align himself too closely with the President, at least not publicly. For many Hispanic voters in Florida, jobs are an important issue, and Rick Scott has been sure to capitalize on this while steering the conversation away from immigration policy.
Polls indicate that Senator Nelson leads Governor Scott by an average of about 2 points, which is well within the margin of error for political polling. Thus, the race is essentially a tie. The closeness of both the Senate race and gubernatorial race in Florida makes Floridians some of the most powerful voters in the country for this election cycle. Every vote matters, but this seems to be especially true in the Sunshine State in 2018.
Governor of Florida
As Governor Rick Scott nears the end of his term limit, the Florida governor’s race has become a battleground between Trumpist conservatives and progressive liberals.The Republican nominee for the governorship is the Congressman Ron DeSantis (R), who secured a comfortable victory over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R) in the primary. In the Democratic field, mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum (D) pulled off a surprise primary victory over Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D). While this is a local Florida election, the candidates have incredible political capital, having had national political figures such as Donald Trump (R) and Bernie Sanders (D) supporting and campaigning for them.
An ardent Trump supporter, DeSantis (R) attracted national media attention when he ran a campaign ad showing him helping his baby daughter build a “wall” out of paper blocks and reading “The Art of the Deal” to his son. Critics have suggested that the Congressman’s entire campaign strategy is based on his allegiance to Trump. President Trump has openly praised DeSantis, tweeting that he is, “…a special person who has done an incredible job.” The President has campaigned for DeSantis in Tampa, and DeSantis has responded by closely aligning himself with the Trump administration, at least before the President suggested via Twitter that the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was inflated by Democrats as a political ploy. DeSantis, who is running in a state with a population of around 1.2 million voting-eligible Puerto Rican citizens, publicly denied this assertion, causing his relationship with the President to turn sour. The DeSantis campaign has confirmed that the event caused tension between them and the White House.
Andrew Gillum (D) is the current mayor of Tallahassee. He has laid out an ambitious platform which includes raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, supporting a Medicare-for-all single payer healthcare system, and abolishing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which provides a broad justification for the use of deadly force among civilians. While he struggled to fund his campaign and get his name out at first, Gillum received funds from mega donors such as George Soros and political support from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (D), who is hailed as a leader in the progressive movement. While it was originally expected that Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D), a moderate liberal and daughter of former Governor Bob Graham, would advance to the general election, the support from outside actors, coupled with growing resentment of so-called “mainstream politics” helped Gillum inch past Graham in the primaries. If elected, Gillum will be Florida’s first black governor.
Most polls seem to favor Gillum by a very slim margin, but polls tend to have a margin of error larger than the lead that Gillum seems to have over DeSantis. Altogether, the Florida Governor’s race is very close, and every vote counts.