Nelson-Scott in the crystal ball

Florida’s 2018 U.S. Senate contest still leans towards the Democratic incumbent, but that could change depending upon when — not if — Gov. Rick Scott jumps into the race, according to seers at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Here’s the latest summary of the contest from the school’s weekly online political newsletter called Sabato’s Crystal Ball released Thursday:

Even though Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is a proven vote-getter, Democrats are deeply worried about the likely candidacy of outgoing Gov. Rick Scott (R). There are two ways of looking at the potential Nelson-Scott matchup.

The first is that while Nelson has won his last two races by convincing margins, Scott barely squeaked by in his two victories in 2010 and 2014, failing to win a majority of the vote either time in what were optimal Republican years and despite dramatically outspending his rivals thanks to his immense personal wealth.

That’s the pro-Nelson view.

The pro-Scott view is that his personal largesse, combined with that of pro-Republican outside groups, could overwhelm the combined Democratic effort, and that Scott is arguably more appealing now than he was in 2010 and 2014 (Morning Consult pegged his approval recently at a decent 52%) and a more formidable Nelson opponent than the incumbent’s weaker challengers in 2006 and 2012.

Nelson is favored for now but this could be a Toss-up in the future.

One danger for Republicans is that if Scott decides to not get in, they may be without a backup plan, although the GOP bench in the state is strong. And it seems like the main question for Scott is not if he runs, but when he announces.

By Jim Turner