MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – It’s Election Day and the choice between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and three-term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson could help determine whether the U.S. Senate stays in Republican control.
Election Day in Orlando has seen a steady stream of voters head to the polls.
Nelson, who voted early, made no campaign appearances on Tuesday as he defends his seat against sitting Governor Rick Scott.
Nelson has been crisscrossing Florida, making stops at big Democratic events. He’s promoted his record, his Florida roots and trustworthiness.
Meanwhile, the Scott campaign is at the La Playa Hotel on Vanderbilt Beach, which is basically North Naples.
That’s where the watch party will be for Governor Scott, who had a busy day traveling the state.
Though his campaign didn’t put out an official schedule, he’s been seen moving between his campaign offices, stopping in to thank all the volunteers.
Around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning he was in the Tampa-area before heading over to Orlando, Jacksonville and then the Pensacola region.
Those are areas with large bases of Republicans that he needs to turn out.
Florida’s Senate race is one of the most highly watched races is the U.S. which was bitter and bruising as both sides unleashed a torrent of negative TV ads.
The two candidates are heavyweights within each party: Nelson has withstood years of GOP dominance to remain the only Democrat elected statewide, while Scott is a two-term governor urged by President Donald Trump to take Nelson on.
A loss by the 76-year-old Nelson would likely end his political career and make it nearly impossible for Democrats to retake the Senate. If Scott loses, it could be a blow to his future political ambitions.
While the two men differ on issues such as gun control and health care, the election has been more about character, competence, and their relationships with Trump.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday across the state.
Chaunce O’Connor, an independent from Miami-Dade County, said Scott’s record earned his vote.
“Our crime has gone down in the state tremendously,” he said. “He’s done great for our education.”
Dan Offler, who voted in Coral Gables, said he voted for Democratic candidates, including Nelson. He criticized Scott for opposing the federal health care overhaul and being opposed to Medicaid expansion, and said Trump’s backing of Republicans “absolutely” factored in his decision to vote against them.
He said Trump has major character flaws, describing him as a narcissist, a liar, and “really a bad president.”
Florida’s senate contest was seen as one of the nation’s marquee races, but it’s been overshadowed by the governor’s race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, a vitriolic proxy battle between Trump and Democrats.
Scott has urged voters to “retire” Nelson, calling him ineffective and faulting him on everything from the level of federal support for the space program to the slow wait to get federal money to help repair the Lake Okeechobee dike.
“We need more workers in D.C. We need less talkers in D.C.,” Scott said during a Monday swing through The Villages retirement community, a GOP enclave in central Florida.
In response, Nelson has branded Scott as a Trump follower who has used the governor’s office to pad his wealth. He said Scott has “savaged” the environment, contributing to the toxic algae and red tide that have plagued the coast this year by cutting the budgets of water-management districts and limiting enforcement actions at the state’s environmental agency. Nelson also has criticized Scott for opposing President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul.
“Now more than ever, the country, indeed Florida, needs people they can trust,” Nelson said during a Miami campaign event on Friday with Obama. “We need leaders who know right from wrong.”
Nelson has been viewed as one of the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats thanks to the formidable challenge from Scott, a multimillionaire businessman who has poured more than $60 million of his own fortune into his campaign.
The 65-year-old governor planned to make the election a referendum on Nelson’s tenure, but found himself playing defense over his own record and became the target of vocal protests at some of his campaign stops.
The governor also began widely airing a television ad promising to retain the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions, even though Florida is one of the states involved in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the federal law. The governor has maintained he had nothing to do with the lawsuit, but he has not called for the state to withdraw from it.
Nelson and his allies ran ads questioning Scott’s ethics, pointing to his ouster as chief executive of health care giant Columbia/HCA amid a federal fraud investigation. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing, the health care conglomerate paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
Nelson, whose long political career included a stint as the state’s insurance commissioner, has been put on the defensive this election season, as well, particularly over several public comments and statements.
Over the summer he triggered a firestorm when he said the Russians were meddling in Florida’s election system after an unsuccessful attempt in 2016. While top GOP senators would neither confirm nor deny Nelson’s statement, federal authorities told Florida election officials they saw no signs of any “new or ongoing compromises” of state or local election systems.
More recently, Nelson warned that the political strife in the nation could lead to the kind of genocide that happened in the African nation of Rwanda, where nearly a million people were killed in the early ’90s.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)