The Republicans gained a Senate seat Tuesday when Florida Gov. Rick Scott defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, according to The Western Journal projections.
The Florida seat was widely seen as the biggest heavyweight battle among the 2018 Senate races, featuring a three-term Democrat incumbent and a sitting two-term Republican governor.
Sen. Bill Nelson’s career in Congress stretches back to the 1970s, when he was elected to a seat in the House of Representatives. In 2000, he handily won a race to replace longtime Republican Sen. Connie Mack III. Subsequent elections in 2006 and 2012 were also relatively easy affairs for Nelson.
The 2018 race proved a more difficult one for Nelson. Gov. Rick Scott, who was prohibited by term limits from seeking another four years in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, entered the race in April and easily dispatched his only competitor in the August primary.
Unlike in previous elections, polls have showed Nelson and Scott neck-and-neck in a year that was supposed to favorable for Democrat incumbents. Disregarding a few outliers, most surveys showed Scott and Nelson in a statistical dead heat.
Several issues loomed large over the Nelson/Scott campaign. Foremost among them was the specter of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, an incident that drew markedly different responses from the candidates.
Nelson used the shooting to call for increased gun control legislation, albeit to mixed results. During a CNN town hall on gun violence just days after the shooting, the senator stirred up significant criticism for using the event to levy criticism personally on Scott.
Scott, meanwhile, faced criticism from the left for signing a bill that could potentially have armed teachers as protection against mass shooters.
The confirmation proceedings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh also played a major role in the campaign, given that they ongoing during the one debate between the candidates. Nelson made it clear that he would vote “no” on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“The testimony of Dr. Ford was quite compelling. As a matter of fact, it was real and she was expressing for millions of women in this country the #MeToo, that sexual assault has happened to them,” he said at the debate, according to the Gainesville Sun.
Scott, meanwhile, said he found the testimonies of both Ford and Kavanaugh “convincing” and that he would vote “yes” based on Kavanaugh’s judicial record. He also implied Nelson was a hypocrite for not condemning Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat accused of sexual harassment.
Scott also criticized Nelson for being a Beltway insider, arguing that his decades in politics hadn’t produced results for anyone except Bill Nelson.
“He’s been there 42 years” and hasn’t done anything, Scott said during the debate.
“I think this is an example of why we need term limits,” Scott added. “Here’s an individual who’s had 40 years to do something, to try to improve the economy. But the things he would do would actually hurt the economy. It’s exactly what Barack Obama was doing — higher taxes and more regulations.”
Nelson, meanwhile, accused Scott of dishonesty.
“The governor keeps coming out with one whopper after another. Apparently, you never got your mouth washed out with soap after telling a lie because you keep on going on, on every part of my record,” Nelson said.
Outside of the debate, President Donald Trump was also a major issue in the campaign. Scott was an early supporter of Trump during his candidacy and the president has returned the favor, leading some pundits to predict that Scott would see a larger-than-average turnout of blue-collar voters.
Nelson, meanwhile, used the president to attack Scott on a number of issues, particularly Trump’s handling of Hurricane Maria. Already home to a large number of Puerto Rican transplants, Florida has seen a massive influx of hurricane-related refugees in the aftermath of the 2017 storm.
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