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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

September 24, 2018

Better Know A Senate Race: North Dakota, Florida, and Texas (Yee-hah!) Edition

Midterm / National / Elections

Map highlighting North Dakota, Florida and Texas

North Dakota

The Senate race in North Dakota is predicted to be one of the most competitive races in the 2018 election cycle. CNN ranked the North Dakota Senate race as one of the ten most likely races to flip in 2018. President Trump won North Dakota by nearly 30 points in the presidential election; however, the incumbent three-term Senator is a member of the Democratic party. Kevin Cramer won the Republican primary election with 87.7% of the vote while Incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp won the Democratic primary with 99.58% of the vote. Sen. Heitkamp has held the Senatorial seat since 2012, where she won with a slim margin of 1% of the vote.

Both candidates have used President Trump in their campaigns since their primary wins. Sen. Heitkamp often regards herself as a Senator that is independent of party lines; “I voted over half the time with President Trump. And that made a lot of people in Washington mad, but when I agree with him, I vote with him,” said Sen. Heitkamp. Additionally, Sen. Heitkamp was invited to the White House to witness the signing of a banking deregulation bill and has flown on Air Force One. Sen. Heitkamp’s bipartisan nature could make her a favorable candidate for the Democratic party; however, both Trump and Heitkamp’s approval ratings were down this summer in North Dakota.

President Trump has publicly endorsed Cramer and has traveled to North Dakota to support Cramer on the campaign trail. Despite their political relationship, Cramer has spoken out against President Trump’s dealings with Russia regarding the alleged election collusion of 2016 stating that he wished that Trump was “more forceful”. Cramer’s endorsement by President Trump could make him more favorable among Republicans and his message against certain presidential actions could make him favorable among bipartisan voters and even some moderate Democrats.

In a poll published by Fox News from September 8-11, Cramer leads by 48% whereas Sen. Heitkamp is polling closely behind at 44%. According to the Fox News poll, there is a significant gender gap between Sen. Heitkamp and Cramer. Women prefer Heitkamp by 7 points whereas men support Cramer by 15 points. According to the North Dakota census, there are slightly more men than women in the state; however, 41.7% of women aged 25-34 have their bachelor’s degree. In this case, North Dakota could see the “pink surge” that Dr. Rachel Bitecofer discussed in the Wason Center’s midterm election predictions. If the “pink surge” is seen in North Dakota, then Republican women with bachelor’s degrees may be more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate in response to President Trump. Moreover, voters that prioritize the economy and white evangelical Christians support Cramer by 36 and 30 percent, respectively; and 30 percent of voters that prioritize healthcare in their voting choice prefer Heitkamp. Sen. Heitkamp has raised significantly more money than Cramer. The most recent data from the FEC cites Heitkamp’s total receipts at $10,955,258 whereas Cramer’s receipts are totaled at $3,268,775.

The Wason Center currently rates this race as Lean Republican.

Florida

According to the Cook Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Senate race in Florida will be a toss-up in the 2018 election cycle. Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson ran unopposed in the primary election and Governor Rick Scott won the Republican primary with 88.6% of the vote. Both Nelson and Scott both have high name recognition in Florida as state and national representatives, making this race one of the most competitive in the 2018 cycle. President Trump narrowly won Florida in the 2016 presidential election by 2 points ahead of Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, Florida is often considered a purple state because they do not consistently lean Democratic or Republican in state and national elections.

According to CNBC and the Center for Responsive Politics, the Senate race in Florida is the most expensive Senate race with $52.1 million in direct contributions and $19.2 million in soft money spending. “It’s two people with understanding of grassroots-level campaigning, two state politicians with two different views of the world,” said Dr. Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor and “expert” in Florida politics. Sen. Nelson has $18,201,259 in total receipts and contributions and Gov. Scott has $31,203,038 in total receipts and contributions, according to the FEC.

One of the biggest issues that the candidates have focused on is the environmental effects of the toxic algae sludge that has been facing the state for months. Environmental issues are rarely at the forefront of a Senate race; however, Florida depends on ecotourism in their economy. Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency in Florida and allowed $1.5 million in funds to go to emergency environmental protection due to the algae. However, Scott will have to sway Democratic voters that are environmentally inclined to vote for Sen. Nelson, who proposed legislation in the Senate that would address the issue of algae growth. Moreover, Sen. Nelson launched a negative ad that blamed Gov. Scott for the algae bloom in Florida. The algae bloom has been an ongoing issue for Florida for about ten months and will continue to be an issue during the election cycle, so it is very likely that the environment will be an important issue to the voters of Florida in their choice for Senator. Gun control has also been an issue on the forefront of the voter’s minds, with two of the most deadly mass shootings happening in Florida. Gov. Scott also has attempted to cross party lines to sway Democratic voters, despite his high rating with the NRA, by signing a law that raised the age limit to purchase rifles in Florida to 21. Sen. Nelson has been a long time advocate of universal background checks and bans on certain types of firearms.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, both Sen. Nelson and Gov. Scott are polling at 49% among Florida voters, further proving that this race will be a toss-up. Furthermore, 92% of Nelson and Scott supporters say that their mind is made up on their voting choice. The Wason Center will continue to report on the highly competitive race in Florida.

The Wason Center currently rates this race as Toss Up.

Texas

The Senate race in Texas is a highly-watched race due to the fact that former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is competing for re-election against a well-funded Democratic candidate. Rep. Beto O’Rourke won the Democratic primary with 61.8% of the vote and has held the congressional seat for Texas’ 16th district since 2013.

The Cook Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have reported this race as likely Republican, favoring Sen. Cruz. However, top advisors to President Trump have expressed worry that Cruz could lose the seat due to President Trump’s favorability rating and the fact that Cruz can be viewed as not “likable” enough himself. “With the election of Donald Trump, the far left has lost their minds. The extreme left, they are energized, they’re angry and they have a lot of hatred for President Trump,” said Cruz to Fox News. Cruz has also stated that O’Rourke is “Kennedyesque” because voters are focused on his charisma and looks and less on his policy stances.

As stated previously, Florida leads as the most expensive Senate race in the 2018 cycle. However, Texas is close behind in direct contributions with $47.2 million and $1.1 million in soft money spending. According to the FEC, Cruz has raised $13,207,771 in total contributions and Beto O’Rourke has raised $23,647,799 in total contributions. Cruz has more name recognition nationwide and widespread Republican support; however, the O’Rourke campaign has raised significantly more money, making him an able challenger to Cruz. “Each dollar that you get, and each dollar you spend has a diminishing return, once you’ve spent $20 million, there’s not much more than $25 million can buy you. So, he’s going to have to win this race on the issues,” said University of Houston-Downtown political science professor David Branham. O’Rourke states that his goal is to create a long-lasting impact through the campaign through the issues: “I think this year and this election is not about [what] party we might belong to or who we voted for in the last election…It’s about the future of this country, the big things we want to do,” said O’Rourke.

According to a poll by Quinnipiac University, Sen. Cruz is polling at 49% whereas O’Rourke is polling at 43%. Furthermore, the most important issue to Cruz supporters is the economy (64%) whereas the most important issue to O’Rourke supporters is healthcare (70%). A poll by Emerson College reports that 38% of voters polled will support Cruz, 37% of voters polled will support O’Rourke, and 21% of voters polled are undecided.

The Wason Center currently rates this race as Toss Up.

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