Primary 2018: State Ballot

Jul 9, 2018

Credit WUWF Public Media

In second and final part of our report on the August 28 primary ballot we look at the statewide races, which are expected to be the usual knock-down drag-out affairs.

Gov. Rick Scott is termed out, and there’s a fairly crowded field in the race to succeed him. Seventeen candidates – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, other third parties, and those with no party affiliation – are in the crowded ballot.

But while many are running, few are considered to be serious candidates.

“Likely, there’s [sic] only three or so on each side that have a reasonable chance at winning the primary; totally normal,” according to Charles Zelden, a political scientist at Nova Southeastern University. “[Florida] is a big state, expensive to run in. Even if you’re on the ballot doesn’t mean that you’ve got a chance of winning it.”

The political ads have been, for the most part, above the belt in the early stages of the governor’s race; but don’t expect the positives to last much longer.

“The easiest type of ad to run is a negative ad; it takes money to put together a good, positive ad,” Zelden says. “If you’re going to run a short, pithy, 15-30-second ad it’s going to be negative. I’m surprised they’re not running yet.”

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate race Rick Scott – who wants to unseat Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson this fall -- is attacking Nelson’s 40-plus years in Washington. For now, Nelson is holding this fire. Zelden says that could be a part of Nelson’s overall strategy.

“He’s kind of running a ‘rope-a-dope’ defense; he’s just trying not to let Scott define him in the race,” says Zelden. “But at some point he’s going to have to go on the offensive against Scott, and I suspect by mid-July you can start seeing him do that.”

Also open are two cabinet offices – Agriculture Commissioner and Attorney General. Add to that 22 state Senate and all 120 House seats in play, with more than 20 incumbents already cruising to re-election because no one signed up to run against them. Zelden says any “Blue Wave” in Florida could crash into a “Red Seawall.”

“The way the state of Florida is laid out geographically, there’s simply too many fiercely Republican-leaning districts and Senate seats in Florida,” Zelden argues. “You don’t need to gerrymander Florida to give the Republicans the advantage; geography has done that.”

The GOP has controlled state government for two decades, but Democrats are pointing to their ability to recruit candidates for this year's elections – for every open state senate seat and in many House districts. Plus, there are a record 82 Democratic women seeking legislative office nationwide.

“It depends on how many of them make it through the primary,” Zelden says. “The big impact of these Democratic women running is that they stand a stronger chance of winning. Because in many ways, the decisions in swing districts and in Republican districts is going to be suburban women.”

In order to take control of the Florida Senate, Democrats need to gain five seats. Republicans must gain three seats to have a two-thirds “supermajority,” with which they can override a governor’s veto.

“In the off-term elections, suburban women have been breaking Democratic in large numbers,” says Zelden. “If that continues, I suspect that more likely to vote that way if there’s a Democratic woman who’s running. The fact that there are a lot of women running in the Democratic side might just help tip the balance.”

Historically, mid-term elections have been the Rodney Dangerfield of politics – no respect, little interest and small turnouts. But in 2018, many consider this a referendum on President Donald Trump, even though he’s not on the ballot. Nova Southeastern’s Charles Zelden says Trump likely will be able to gin up the usual GOP turnout during the campaign, but the question is: can the Democrats counter that?

“One reason Republicans do better in mid-terms is that Republican voters are more likely to come up and vote,” says Nova Southeastern’s Charles Zelden. “If you do see high numbers from the African-American community; the Latin community, and high numbers of younger voters, it can definitely result in a blue wave.”

But if they don’t show up on November 6, Zelden says its business as usual and the GOP will do relatively well.