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Florida Politics Will Be Busy in 2018

January 1, 2018 - 6:00am
Bill Nelson, Gwen Graham, Rick Scott, Adam Putnam and Jimmy Patronis
Bill Nelson, Gwen Graham, Rick Scott, Adam Putnam and Jimmy Patronis

As the new year begins, Florida looks set to keep its status as one of the nation’s perennial political battlegrounds. 

All eyes will be on the U.S. Senate race as the GOP looks to keep control of that chamber. Democrat Bill Nelson is expected to run for a fourth term in 2018 but he faces a major challenger in Rick Scott who is term limited after eight years as governor. Scott’s a far tougher challenge than Nelson’s previous opponents and the governor is riding high after his handling of Hurricane Irma. Still, this will be a competitive race and, if there is a Democratic wave, that could be bad news for Scott who barely won in 2010 and 2014, both good years for the GOP. Nelson has challenges of his own though and a large segment of voters aren’t sure what they think about him even though he has been on the Florida political stage for more than four decades. This is rightfully one of the most closely watched races in the nation and will garner a great deal of attention at the state and national levels. 

The other political main event in Florida will be the gubernatorial race as Scott faces term limits. Adam Putnam has a head start over his fellow Republicans and he is a proven winner with two statewide victories under his belt. But he is open on the right, something Ron DeSantis looks to exploit. In recent days, DeSantis has been praised by Donald Trump on Twitter and has rounded up some prominent conservatives to back a gubernatorial campaign. That’s some impressive support especially since DeSantis never really quite caught fire in his brief Senate bid back in 2016 though he--and the other Republican hopefuls--weren’t helped by Marco Rubio opening the door to eventually running for another term. Richard Corcoran is also looming over the race and conservatives have cheered his record leading the House in Tallahassee. GOP activist Bob White is also in the mix, hoping to round up enough grassroots conservatives that will support his calls to reduce government. 

Democrats hope to win the gubernatorial election, something they haven’t done since 1994. So far, Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine have lined up to run. None of them are well known across the state but they all hope to fill niches in the primary. John Morgan could hinder whoever emerges for the Democrats since he has kept the door opening to running as an independent in November. However, as it stands now, this is shaping up to be the most competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary since at least 2006. 

Pam Bondi is also facing term limits and that is setting up an interesting race. With Bondi’s support, Ashley Moody is hoping Republicans will once again turn to Tampa Bay for this post even as three members of the state House--Jay Fant, Ross Spano and Frank White--stand in her way. Fant is trying to claim Trump’s mantle and he has thrown a few jabs at Moody already while White has reeled in some impressive supporters. This has the makings for an interesting primary. Attorney Ryan Torrens is the only Democrat in the race so far but there are other possible contenders--including Mitchell Berger and Sean Shaw--eyeing the race. 

Lower down the undercard is the state CFO race. After Jeff Atwater resigned the post earlier this year, Rick Scott named Jimmy Patronis to the CFO position. Patronis has never won an election at the statewide level and even his bid for an open state Senate seat did not go well as he wasn’t able to match his rivals in the money chase, leading him to drop out. Tom Lee, who ran for the post in 2006, is back and should offer Patronis a serious primary challenge. On the Democratic side, Jeremy Ring, a former Yahoo executive who served in the state Senate, is running and he does have some support in the business community from his time in Tallahassee and his focus on improving Florida’s ports. 

With Putnam running for governor, three Republicans will duke it out to replace him. Denise Grimsley had a head start but Matt Caldwell has been busy, raising funds and reeling in endorsements. Baxter Troutman is also in the mix on the Republican side while David Walker is the only Democrat in the race so far. 

In the meantime, some competitive congressional races are starting to form. With Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retiring, Democrats are optimistic about replacing her and a field of candidates, including some major contenders, has lined up for both parties’ nominations. Still, Hillary Clinton blew Trump out in this district and this ranks as one of the best chances Democrats have to flip a House seat. Republicans have a better chance of keeping DeSantis’ seat assuming he runs for governor though Democrats have a credible candidate in Nancy Soderberg. Of course, other members of Congress could bow out in 2018. 

There are a handful of other competitive congressional races. Republicans are already targeting Stephanie Murphy, an upset winner last time out, and Charlie Crist. So far, Murphy looks more vulnerable than Crist does. Democrats are gearing up to take on Carlos Curbelo, Brian Mast and perhaps other Republicans incumbents. Most of the current delegation look safe for 2018 but, as Murphy’s win over John Mica  proved, there can always be surprises. As Ted Yoho and Al Lawson showed with their upset wins, incumbents are often more vulnerable in the primaries. That could be the case for Lawson as Jacksonville Democrats--perhaps including Alvin Brown--contemplate taking him on in the primary. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to battle Tom Canova in a rematch from their 2016 primary. 

There are also plenty of other contests across the Sunshine State in 2018. Every seat of the Florida House will be up for grabs while the state Senate could drastically change come November. The Constitution Revision Commission is set to offer some proposed amendments to the state Constitution as well for voters to approve or shoot down at the ballot box. 

Even while there isn’t a presidential election this year, Florida is set to be a major battleground in 2018. Florida will once again be in the political spotlight and residents of the Sunshine State burned out by politics won’t get much of a reprieve in the new year. 

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