Can the GOP Gain Seats in States Trump Won? Prelimary Analysis of Bill Nelson By Garrett Russitano
This series examines 10 Democratic Senators who are up for election in states Donald Trump won. Thus far, we’ve analyzed Senators Claire McCaskill (MO), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Casey (PA), and Sherrod Brown (OH). This piece examines Bill Nelson, who is up for election in Florida, a state Donald Trump narrowly won by just over one percent.
Bill Nelson has been in public service for 45 years. He was elected into the Florida Legislature in 1972 and subsequently served 6 terms in the US Congress, representing Orlando and the Space Coast.
Nelson served as Florida state Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and Fire Marshal prior to being elected to the Senate in 2006, a seat he won by over 20 points. As a former astronaut, Nelson has enjoyed relative popularity throughout his political career. In a survey this spring, he was named Florida’s most popular politician.
Critics claim that Nelson’s lengthy career and centrist voting record are what could be his undoing. Progressives question his ability to mobilize liberals, prompting talk of a primary challenge, including law professor Tim Canova, who is backed by Bernie Sanders.
If Nelson does secure the nomination he may face Rick Scott, a well-funded and popular candidate who will be term limited as Governor. Polling shows Nelson and Scott in a statistical tie for the seat, though Scott yet to formally join the race.
Nelson’s advocates cite his bipartisan record and fundraising ability. Nelson raised over $2 million in the first quarter of 2017 and now has a war chest of $5 million. His moderate politics would likely be helpful in a general election.
Senator Nelson has supported President Trump just 35 percent of the time. Most of his votes aligning with the president pertain to confirming nominees. Nelson has consistently supported the ACA, deriding multiple attempts by the GOP to defund or remove ObamaCare. Most recently, Senator Nelson has criticized Trump’s decision to end DACA.
Trump’s approval ratings among Florida voters have diminished. As of July, Gallup polls show majority of Floridians disapproving of Trump’s presidency and just 42 percent approving. This is a part of a larger trend of Trump being under water in pivotal swing states that helped him win in 2016, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Senator Nelson’s approval rating is 52 percent with 24 percent disapproving. This is much better than Donald Trump and fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report identify Florida as leaning Democratic. Midterm elections are traditionally difficult for Democrats because minorities and young people are less likely to turnout in large numbers. President Trump’s handling of immigration may change that.
Garrett Russitano is a research assistant for The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research.