Rick Scott: In It To Win It

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 21

This week:

  • Rick Scott is in it to win it, and spending big early on
  • Georgia Dems’ fork in the Road: Good Stacey, or Bad Stacey?
  • How Brad Little Triumphed in Idaho

Primary elections, May 22:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia (Governor)
  • Kentucky
  • Texas (Runoff)

Senate 2018

Florida: Republican Gov. Rick Scott is doing exactly what you’d expect — putting his practically infinite resources to full effect with early and constant advertising in his race against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D.

The number of Scott ads at this early date — in English and Spanish, with multi-million dollar buys behind them — is almost mind-numbing. Having already spent $8 million just on television, he is clearly committed to the race. Needless to say, the field is clear for him in the primary. And of course, despite suffering huge unpopularity ahead of his 2014 re-election, Scott is still popular enough after two terms as governor that there’s no obstacle to him winning. What’s more, Florida’s Democratic Party is a perennial disaster, given how closely divided the state has been since the 2000 election.

Scott’s job at this point is to define both himself and Nelson early on. Nelson has not been able to do much in response, and Democrats are already quite concerned.

As long as Republicans don’t suffer some kind of election-defining gut-punch scandal, Scott simply can’t be counted out until it’s over. One poll this month actually hints at a substantial Scott lead, although it’s the only available poll and  not from a well-trusted pollster. But whether you believe that survey or not, it’s a sign that this will be a competitive race.

This race is a must-win for Democrats, and it’s going to be a very expensive race. If Scott wins in Florida, there’s basically no practical way for Democrats to take control of the Senate.

Indiana: Good news for Republican nominee Mike Braun, who narrowly leads Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in an early poll. However, candidates with sparse political backgrounds can sometimes end up with unpleasant surprises. Democrats are scraping and scouring every corner of the state to figure out if there’s any way to bring this guy down.

Pennsylvania: In sharp contrast to Florida, here’s a state where Republicans don’t like the way things are going at all.

You may wonder why, after Trump’s 2016 win in the Keystone State, there’s so little talk about Republican Rep. Lou Barletta and his effort to oust Sen. Bob Casey, D.

The fact is, Republicans are right to fear a total wipeout in the Keystone State this year. Assume that Barletta can’t cobble together a decent organization, and then throw in the longshot nomination of businessman Scott Wagner for governor, and the partisan Democratic court-forced re-map of the state’s House seats. Put all those together, and Republicans could suffer huge losses from one end of the state to the other, and from the top of the ballot to the bottom.

Governor 2018

Georgia: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is favored to come out on top in Tuesday’s Republican primary in the Georgia governor’s race, but there’s little chance he can get 50 percent and avoid a runoff July 24. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sen. Hunter Hill are vying for the second-place spot in that GOP runoff.

On the Democratic side, the race is between the two Staceys — state Reps. Stacey Evans and Stacey Abrams. Abrams is the progressive choice, Evans the more moderate, establishment Democrat. It’s not immediately obvious which one is a better pick simply in terms of trying to win in November.

The question of when or whether Georgia turns Blue is the topic of constant discussion in Georgia, but so far Republicans have held on to the gains of their 2002 revolution. Their legislative majorities have only grown, and they’ve completely locked Democrats out of the statewide races since 2006.

The strategy of nominating a moderate Democrat keeps failing again and again, as with Michelle Nunn’s run for Senate in 2014 and Jim Martin’s in 2008, and Jason Carter’s disappointing run for governor against a very unpopular incumbent in 2014. The progressive strategy, on the other hand, could be so crazy that it works…but it could also end up being much worse for the party at all levels.

And yet the progressive Abrams is the overwhelming favorite, which is going to make for a very interesting 2018 either way.

Likely Republican Retention.

Idaho: Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little exceeded our expectations and won last week’s primary by a solid if unspectacular 9,000 votes, a 4.7 point margin. The reason for Rep. Raul Labrador’s failure to win a race where he seemed to be the favorite is easy enough to understand if you look carefully at the 2016 presidential primary map.

Ted Cruz won Idaho quite convincingly in 2016, and with Labrador’s endorsement. But in this race, Labrador himself was unable to bring out the large majority in his own district that Cruz had won. In fact, he did so much worse than Cruz in the three largest counties in his own district that it probably cost him the race (although that depends on whether you get him to that percentage by adding or reallocating voters).

Kootenai County, in the northern panhandle, was a huge source of strength for Cruz in 2016. He carried it with 53 percent of the vote in what was at that point a four-way race. But Labrador, who again has represented the area for nearly eight years, somehow managed only 43 percent there, with a disappointing 1,200 vote margin over Little. Labrador also dramatically underperformed Cruz’s percentages in Canyon County (Idaho’s second-largest), and Ada County (its largest). Combine this weakness in his own district with his expected failure to replicate Cruz’s success in the eastern section of the state (as Cruz did), and Labrador was left in the dust.

Why did Labrador fall short? It’s likely that he’s rubbed some people the wrong way in the last three years, especially given his initially staunch opposition to Trump. Labrador became a somewhat controversial figure in the state GOP, although it never showed up in any of the non-competitive races he’s faced in recent years.

Another theory is that developer Tommy Ahlquist’s self-funded campaign, instead of siphoning moderate voters away from Little, siphoned the state’s quiet but extremely important Mormon vote away from Labrador, his co-religionist, allowing the mainline Protestant Little to slip by.

But perhaps that sells Little short. He made a credible case that he’s a true conservative, running ads portraying himself as an unabashedly pro-life supporter of traditional marriage and the Second Amendment. Although it didn’t take, he also put himself prominently behind the state government’s push to open up the Obamacare exchanges to non-Obamacare plans. This was part of his strategy to gain credibility on the Right. All of this probably helped at the margins, which was all he needed.

On the Democratic side, there’s a new Barack Obama — Paulette Jordan, who hails from Coeur d’Alene and is a member of the Indian tribe of that same name. She faces the most uphill of climbs against an opponent who is about as avuncular and personally likeable as any Republican in the state.

Democrats failed to crack 40 percent in the last two Idaho governor’s races. Even worse, the Democratic share in presidential races has been falling. Obama’s 35.9 percent in 2008 was a modern Democratic high, the best since Michael Dukakis’ 36.0 percent in 1988. Obama slipped to 32 percent in 2012, and then Hillary Clinton won only 27.5 percent in 2016.

Idaho is the fastest growing state in America, and the thinking right now is that the influx of California refugees is only making its politics less Democratic, not more. Jordan will try to prove otherwise. Likely Republican Retention.