San­ders Demo­crat likely to help Nel­son

Gov­er­nor hope­ful en­er­gizes vot­ers as sen­a­tor clings to re-elec­tion hopes

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JAMES VARNEY

While they aren’t ex­actly run­ning as a ticket, there is wide­spread agree­ment among Florida po­lit­i­cal pros that Demo­cratic Sen. Bill Nel­son is ben­e­fit­ing from his party’s gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum.

Mr. Gil­lum, a left­ist in the mold of Sen. Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont, won an un­ex­pected vic­tory in the Demo­cratic pri­mary for Florida gov­er­nor. As a young black face on the scene, he is ex­pected to gen­er­ate more en­thu­si­asm and votes in Novem­ber, which could help Mr. Nel­son in his tight re-elec­tion bid against Re­pub­li­can Gov. Rick Scott.

“Florida’s gu­ber­na­to­rial and U.S. Se­nate con­tests are prac­ti­cally glued to­gether,” said Su­san MacManus, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and the dean of the Sun­shine State’s po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts. “In fact, many be­lieve the gov­er­nor’s race will be the turnout driver rather than the Se­nate race.”

Mr. Nel­son is em­brac­ing the ticket ap­proach. He stopped by an Or­lando rally for Mr. Gil­lum and his for­mal run­ning mate, lieu­tenant gov­er­nor hope­ful Chris King.

Mr. Scott’s cam­paign, mean­while, said he doesn’t have any joint ap­pear­ances sched­uled with his party’s gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, former Rep. Ron DeSan­tis.

Both the sen­a­to­rial and gov­er­nor’s races are close, ac­cord­ing to the Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of polls, which gives Mr. Gil­lum a 3-point lead in the gov­er­nor’s race and Mr. Scott a 1.6-point lead for the Se­nate.

But among black vot­ers. Mr. Gil­lum holds a com­mand­ing 93 per­cent to 2 per­cent ad­van­tage over Mr. DeSan­tis, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity sur­vey.

“Gil­lum helps Nel­son be­cause he in­spires a dif­fer­ent base,” Demo­cratic con­sul­tant Steve Van­core said. “Younger, mil­len­nial, Bernie/pro­gres­sive vot­ers re­ally love Gil­lum and were sup­port­ive but not en­thu­si­as­ti­cally so for Sen. Nel­son.”

In other words, should the black vote turn out for Mr. Gil­lum, that could spell trou­ble for Mr. Scott.

“The gov­er­nor’s race is go­ing to have some in­flu­ence over the Se­nate,” said Rick Wil­son, a Re­pub­li­can strate­gist in Florida and prom­i­nent “Never Trumper.” “An­drew Gil­lum will ac­ti­vate the African-Amer­i­can vote, per­haps sub­stan­tially.”

Carol Weis­sert, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Florida State, said the “ques­tion should make for a fun two months.”

“The truth is Bill Nel­son is not a very ex­cit­ing can­di­date,” Ms. Weis­sert said. “Will the base turn out for him? An­drew Gil­lum changes that cal­cu­lus.”

Florida isn’t the only state where a gov­er­nor’s race will af­fect the Se­nate bat­tle. In Texas, Re­pub­li­can Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s mas­sive cam­paign fund is likely to help turn out vot­ers who could also as­sist Re­pub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz.

Ne­vada, Ari­zona, Ten­nessee and Wis­con­sin are among other states where gov­er­nor’s races and Se­nate races could play off each other.

In Florida, the Scott camp hopes to use the ticket-style re­la­tion­ship to its ad­van­tage by try­ing to tie Mr. Nel­son to Mr. Gil­lum’s left-wing stances.

The mayor sup­ports a plat­form backed by the Demo­cratic Party’s surg­ing pro­gres­sive base that in­cludes abol­ish­ing U.S. Im­mi­gra­tions and Cus­toms En­force­ment, rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour, gov­ern­ment­backed “Medi­care for all” health care, and free public col­lege tu­ition.

Re­flect­ing the con­cerns of some tra­di­tional Democrats that the far-left po­si­tions could hurt with in­de­pen­dent vot­ers, Mr. Nel­son has shown un­cer­tainty about how much he agrees with Mr. Gil­lum’s po­si­tions. Mr. Nel­son ini­tially called the mayor’s ideas “main­stream,” but he has since said he does not want to abol­ish ICE and would raise the hourly min­i­mum wage to $12.

“It seems like Bill Nel­son is stuck be­tween a rock and a hard place,” Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokes­woman Taryn Fenske said. “He needs the votes of Democrats and in­de­pen­dents to con­tinue his job as a ca­reer politi­cian but is un­com­fort­able fully em­brac­ing the out-of-touch poli­cies that An­drew Gil­lum is ad­vo­cat­ing.”

The con­tests in Florida are be­ing closely watched not only be­cause the Democrats’ dream of seiz­ing a Se­nate ma­jor­ity would take a big hit if Mr. Nel­son is de­feated, but also be­cause the matchup be­tween Mr. Gil­lum and Mr. DeSan­tis is viewed as some­thing of a show­down be­tween Trump Repub­li­cans and San­ders Democrats two years be­fore the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Mr. Nel­son and Mr. Gil­lum al­ready have done what they can to make the races a ref­er­en­dum on Pres­i­dent Trump, who has en­thu­si­as­ti­cally en­dorsed Mr. Scott and Mr. DeSan­tis.

In re­turn, Mr. Scott’s cam­paign has made much of Mr. Nel­son’s re­luc­tance to say how he will vote on Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett M. Ka­vanaugh, whom a ma­jor­ity of Florid­i­ans sup­port. In­stead, Mr. Nel­son tells sup­port­ers he is work­ing to keep Mr. Trump from flood­ing the fed­eral bench with “ex­trem­ist” or “far right” judges.

Al­though the Quin­nip­iac poll showed a ma­jor­ity of Florid­i­ans “say Trump is not an im­por­tant fac­tor in the gov­er­nor’s race,” the Gil­lum cam­paign has been quick to re­spond to tweets and what it calls provo­ca­tions from Mr. Trump.

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