Thursday, June 02, 2011

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's chances for re-election

By Richard K. Barry 

In my never ending quest to get a better handle on the more interesting political races coming up in 2012, I now turn my attention to Democrat Bill Nelson's Florida senate seat.

It's always interesting to see a politician who won the last time by such an overwhelming margin be considered in either a toss-up situation, as both The Cook Report and Roll Call have it, or as only marginally well placed to win, as Rothenberg sees it.

Nelson beat Republican Kathleen Harris in 2006 by a margin of 60.3% to 38.1%. You may recall that, as Florida Secretary of State, Harris played a pivotal role in stealing the presidential election for George W. Bush in 2000 and was, on account of that, a polarizing figure in the campaign before self-destructing. But I digress.

The point is simply that Nelson won handily in 2006 and yet is getting little respect from the leading political prognosticators in the business.

So what do we know?

Well, I think the first thing you'd have to notice is that the relatively new Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott is one of the least popular politicians in the country, and that can't hurt an incumbent Democratic senator's chances in 2012 in the same state. Scott is not alone as an unpopular Republican governor, but he has distinguished himself as a particularly loathsome hack, if I do say so myself.

As Bloomberg reports:

Scott took office in January and by April his disapproval among voters doubled after he called for cutting spending in schools and health care to close a $3.8 billion deficit. In May, his popularity was at the lowest in five months.

So, there's that working in Nelson's favour.

What else can we say?

A Quinnipac University poll released on May 26th had Obama's approval rating in Florida at 51%, admittedly fueled by the killing of Osama bin Laden, but a bump's a bump.

Accord to The Miami Herald, the poll also indicated that the Republicans may have quite a task ahead of them in their attempt to unseat Senator Nelson:

Nelson holds leads of between 20 to 25 points over three hypothetical contenders: former U.S. Senator George LeMieux, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos and former state Representative Adam Hasner.

It is no doubt early days in determining who the GOP challenger will be, but those are not good numbers for any of them.

Although, Peter Brown, the assistant director at Quinnipac, says that while Nelson appears to be in good shape, he does not win 50% against any of the three putative contenders. For some reason unclear to me Brown calls 50% the "magic threshold" that signals an incumbent will be difficult to beat. It is a nice round number. Maybe that's it.

Whatever the reason, that could be why the major handicappers are calling it a toss-up or very nearly. But Nelson still seems awfully strong especially considering one more number from the poll indicating that he has an approval rating of 51%, including 39% among Republicans.

I do note that a Public Policy Polling poll from December 2010 had Nelson with a job approval rating of just 36%, a disapproval rating of 33%, and another 31% not sure. This, of course, would have been back in the dark days after the disastrous midterm elections, but it does indicate a certain volatility amongst voters in The Sunshine State.

The same poll suggested that Jeb Bush would be the only Republican with a realistic chance of beating Bill Nelson, but, so far, apart from a Facebook page urging Jeb to run, I'm not finding much indication that Mr. Bush is so inclined. I suppose that could change.

Not for nothin', but, baring surprising developments, this race sure looks like the kind that hinges strongly on how well Obama ends up doing. In fact, we could say that about almost all of the Democratic senate races that are deemed close at this point, which may end up being good news for the Dems since I think Obama will do just fine in 2012.

Come to think of it, I'm not all that worried about Senator Nelson after all, no matter what Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg think. What do they know?

But in all seriousness, if you go back to just after the midterms, it seemed like it wasn't that hard to find people writing Nelson's political obituary and now not so much. I wonder how many twists and turns there will be on this one before November 2012? Maybe that's what Cook and Rothenberg know.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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