HIGH STAKES HIGHER COST

Florida’s Se­nate race could be­come the most ex­pen­sive ever

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Skyler Swisher South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

Florida’s high-stakes U.S. Se­nate race is the most ex­pen­sive con­test in the 2018 midterm elec­tions, al­ready gen­er­at­ing enough po­lit­i­cal spend­ing to cut each of the state’s 13 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers a $13 check.

The out­come of the bat­tle be­tween Demo­cratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son and Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Scott could de­ter­mine the bal­ance of power on Capi­tol Hill. It’s also con­tend­ing to fin­ish as the costli­est Se­nate race in the na­tion’s his­tory.

The can­di­dates have spent a com­bined $91 mil­lion as of Fri­day, while out­side groups have ponied up an­other $89 mil­lion, bring­ing the to­tal to $180 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

That’s al­ready eclipsed the $110 mil­lion spent in Florida’s 2016 Se­nate race, and it far sur­passes the $53 mil­lion spent in 2012 when Nel­son last ran for re-elec­tion. It is clos­ing in on the $188 mil­lion spent in the 2016 Penn­syl­va­nia Se­nate con­test, con­sid­ered to be the most ex­pen­sive Se­nate race ever.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that Florida’s Se­nate race is on top this year, said Michael Beckel, re­search man­ager for Is­sue One, a group that tracks money in pol­i­tics. It’s a highly com­pet­i­tive con­test with a wealthy, self-funded can­di­date in a cru­cial bat­tle­ground state with ex­pen­sive me­dia mar­kets.

Scott, a for­mer hos­pi­tal ex­ec­u­tive, has poured about $63 mil­lion of his own for­tune into his Se­nate bid, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion fil­ings.

“As a ma­jor bat­tle­ground, it’s at­tract­ing a lot of spend­ing,” Beckel said. “Be­cause there is such a na­tion­al­ized en­vi­ron­ment there are a lot of donors across the coun­try who are in­vest­ing money in the state of Florida.”

Much of that money has been spent on tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing. Ad spend­ing in the Se­nate race to­tals $96 mil­lion in Florida, more than any other state, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Wes­leyan Me­dia Project.

Repub­li­cans hold a nar­row

51-seat ad­van­tage in the U.S. Se­nate. Nel­son is one of 10 Se­nate Democrats vy­ing for re-elec­tion in a state Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump won in 2016.

As Repub­li­cans and Democrats bat­tle for con­trol of Congress, this midterm elec­tion is ex­pected to set spend­ing records, Beckel said. The Cen­ter of Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics projects that more than $5 bil­lion will be spent this elec­tion cy­cle na­tion­ally. Democrats want to gain con­trol of Congress to re­sist Trump’s agenda.

Mis­souri’s Se­nate con­test is the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive race, fol­lowed by the Se­nate races in Texas and Ari­zona, ac­cord­ing to the group. Ex­clud­ing spend­ing by out­side groups, Texas fin­ishes first with the can­di­dates spend­ing nearly $94 mil­lion so far com­pared with $91 mil­lion in Florida.

Scott has bankrolled his po­lit­i­cal rise. He spent $73 mil­lion of his own money to boost his name recog­ni­tion when he first ran for gov­er­nor in 2010 and put an­other

$12 mil­lion into his 2014 re-elec­tion cam­paign, bring­ing his to­tal elec­tion spend­ing over the past eight years to nearly $150 mil­lion.

Dur­ing a cam­paign event this week in Palm Beach County, Scott said he is put­ting so much of his money into elec­tions be­cause he wants to help oth­ers achieve the same suc­cess he has had — go­ing from a child­hood in pub­lic hous­ing to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion in Tal­la­has­see.

“I’ve lived the dream,” he said. “I want that dream for ev­ery­body else in this state.”

The net worth of Scott and his wife could ex­ceed $500 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral dis­clo­sure state­ments. That would make Scott one of the wealth­i­est mem­bers of Congress if he’s elected. Scott de­clined the

$130,000-a-year gov­er­nor’s salary, and he traveled the state in his own pri­vate jet.

Nel­son has taken a more skep­ti­cal view of Scott’s pub­lic ser­vice. He ac­cused the gov­er­nor of en­rich­ing him­self dur­ing his ten­ure through a not-so-blind trust that in­cluded hold­ings in busi­nesses that stood to ben­e­fit from state de­ci­sions.

“He is a walk­ing con­flict of in­ter­est,” Nel­son said dur­ing the only de­bate in the race.

Scott de­nied his per­sonal fi­nances played a role in his de­ci­sions as gov­er­nor.

Nel­son has raised more than

$27 mil­lion — about 61 per­cent of which were con­tri­bu­tions of

$200 or more, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics. Top con­trib­u­tors in­clude the de­fense con­trac­tor Har­ris Corp., the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers, Google par­ent com­pany Al­pha­bet Inc., Com­cast Corp., Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and the in­sur­ance com­pany Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Ex­clud­ing his own con­tri­bu­tions, Scott has raised more than

$17 mil­lion. His top con­trib­u­tors in­clude Florida Power & Light par­ent com­pany Nex­tEra En­ergy, The Vil­lages and Geo Group, a pri­vate prison op­er­a­tor based in Boca Ra­ton.

Out­side groups fa­vor­ing lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive causes have rushed in to spend spend tens of mil­lions of dol­lars more to sup­port or op­pose the can­di­dates.

Scott sus­pended his cam­paign af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael rav­aged the Pan­han­dle on Oct.

10. The only de­bate was dubbed in Span­ish and had a lim­ited English-speak­ing au­di­ence. It aired on Tele­mu­ndo 51 in Span­ish and was streamed in English on­line.

The cable net­work CNN can­celed the sec­ond de­bate be­cause the can­di­dates couldn’t agree on a make-up date af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael forced a post­pone­ment.

But even with a ma­jor hur­ri­cane dis­rupt­ing the race, the tele­vi­sion ads and the flow of money never stopped.

LYNNE SLADKY/AP

U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son

SCOTT MCINTYRE/BLOOMBERG

Gov. Rick Scott

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