Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

After Debate, Florida Senate Race No Longer A Slam Dunk for Incumbent Nelson

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For weeks on end the senate race in Florida has received little coverage in the media due to what has appeared to be a sure win for the incumbent democrat, Bill Nelson. Despite the republican challenger, U.S. Representative Connie Mack’s strong political history and support from major players within the Republican Party, Nelson has kept an easy and rather large lead for the majority of the race.

As a two-term incumbent, Nelson sits on one of the most influential committees in the Senate, the Senate Finance Committee, and has been able to out raise Mack by a 3-to-1 margin.  Nelson’s huge financial advantage over his opponent has allowed him to pound Mack with many attack ads focusing on an arrest in his twenties as well as his work for the restaurant chain, Hooters.  Given the financial disparity between the two campaigns, Connie Mack has really been unable to effectively rebuke these harmful ads or launch any equally as damaging counterattacks.

For months Bill Nelson was also able to use his incumbent position to avoid his challenger’s several requests to go head to head with each other in a debate.  On the Senate level debates are not mandatory and are often avoided by incumbents who don’t want to give their opponents free airtime.

However, due to increasing pressure from the state’s many independents as well as from state republicans, Bill Nelson ceded to appearing in a debate with Mack last week.  By looking at the polls released this week, I bet he wished he hadn’t….

Although the race is still no dead heat, the gap in most statewide polls released this week have certainly narrowed.  Even more alarming for Nelson, a poll released yesterday by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper/WPTV News Channel 5 shows that Connie Mack is actually leading among the state’s independent voters.

The left-leaning firm, Public Policy Polling, conducted the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper/WPTV News Channel 5 poll during the two days following the first and only Senate debate.  The results showed that Mack had narrowed the overall margin down to 4 percentage points at 41% Mack, 45% Nelson.  However, among those favoring Mack, 41% were independent voters, while only 37% of the voters favoring Nelson claimed to be independents.  The Real Clear Politics polling average between the two candidates before the debate showed Nelson with a 5.5 point lead over Mack at 47/41.5.

The entire situation has given weight to the commonly cited idea that debates on the state and local level can be much more influential in swaying public opinion than they are on the national level.  But what went so wrong for Bill Nelson during the debate to cause him to lose his lead? Really nothing except for the fact that it was an opportunity for his opponent to finally get a few words in.

Connie Mack vehemently challenged Bill Nelson’s record in the Senate, declaring him to be a tax-and-spend liberal who stands strongly behind all of President Obama’s most extreme policies.  He also criticized Nelson for airing below-the-belt attack ads, something Mack had not really been able to do with his tight budget.

Luckily for Bill Nelson this was the only debate of the election season, and thus the only opportunity his challenger, Connie Mack, will have had to get a little free airtime.  Unfortunately for Bill Nelson, it looks like the damage has been done and more people have hopped on to the Mack bandwagon.

It’s not clear yet whether or not Mack is still gaining momentum in the polls, but one thing is for sure, Republican donors are fired up about their Florida Senate candidate again.  According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the republican super PAC, American Crossroads, has just pledged more money to Connie Mack’s campaign. And as we all know, with a little extra cash flow many things are possible.

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