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In Florida Senate race, Dems face down a daunting price tag

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott gestures as he speaks during a news conference on May 3, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.Wilfredo Lee / AP

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WASHINGTON — Across the 2018 Senate landscape, the vulnerable red-state Senate Democrats are either outspending their GOP challengers over the TV and radio airwaves, or they’re keeping the disparity as close as possible. (That’s where it helps to be an incumbent, right?)

But there’s one huge exception — Florida, where Republican Rick Scott and the GOP are outspending Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and the Democrats by nearly a 50-to-1 margin, $8.8 million to $185,000, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics.

  • Arizona: Dem $2,250,000; GOP $376,00
  • Florida: GOP $8.8 million; Dem $185,000
  • Indiana (general): GOP $213,000; Dem $140,400
  • Missouri: Dem $5.2 million; GOP $2.5 million
  • Montana: Dem $2.8 million; GOP $2.6 million
  • Nevada: Dem $2.0 million; GOP $724,000
  • North Dakota: GOP $887,000; Dem $782,000
  • Tennessee: Dem $1.2 million; GOP $18,000
  • West Virginia (general): GOP $302,000; Dem $0
  • Wisconsin: GOP $8.9 million; Dem $5.1 million

SOURCE: Advertising Analytics (totals reflect combined TV and radio spending from campaigns and outside groups and political parties in key Senate contests as of May 14).

One month after announcing his bid, Scott’s campaign has spent $4.8 million over Florida’s expensive airwaves, while two pro-Scott outside groups have spent a combined $3 million. Nelson’s campaign, by comparison, has spent $0, with outside groups spending the $185,000. (Nelson does have more than $10 million cash on hand that he’s obviously saving to spend at a later date.)

Scott’s personal wealth was always going to be a wild card for Republicans to play in this rough political environment for the GOP. It forces Democrats and Dem outside groups to spend heavily to keep Nelson competitive — it costs at least $2 million to $3 million PER WEEK to advertise statewide in Florida — which comes at the expense of other Democratic campaigns. That’s a significant advantage for Republicans, especially when so many Democrats (incumbents or challengers) are outraising Republicans in hard dollars.

Of course, it’s an open question whether spending so much in Florida right now will pay off in October-November, when this ad-spending gap will get closer. What’s more, money doesn’t guarantee you success (just ask Jeb Bush). And Scott’s 50-to-1 advantage hasn’t fundamentally changed the contours of the Florida Senate race – a recent Florida Atlantic University poll had Scott ahead by 4 points among registered voters, while previous polling has showed Nelson ahead by a similar amount.

But Scott’s money will be a storyline we’ll continue to watch over the next six months.

A glimmer of hope for the GOP?

The Cook Political Report’s Charlie Cook writes, “Over the past 90 days, the president’s approval ratings have ticked up to the low-to-mid 40s—still extremely low for elected incumbent presidents in their second year in office, but certainly better from where they had been… In the generic-ballot test, the GOP is now typically behind by mid-to-high single digits. As with Trump’s approval rating, Republicans are still in an alarming position on that front, but better than they were.”

But Cook adds, “One thing to remember about midterm elections is that roughly a third fewer people vote in them than in presidential elections. The people who disproportionately participate in midterms are people who, as my mother used to say, “have their noses out of joint”—in this case angry, fearful, or merely unhappy. Republicans should be quite sure that those who dislike or disapprove of Trump will turn out in big numbers.”

It’s Primary Day in Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon, Pennsylvania. Here are the races we’re following

There are three primaries with implications for the control of Congress — as well as another three with interesting storylines — that we’ll be watching tonight. Here are the six races:

RACES WE’LL BE WATCHING IN NOVEMBER

PA-1: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., is the vulnerable incumbent here in Pennsylvania’s revised congressional map, and the Democratic race to take him on in this Philly-area district features frontrunner Scott Wallace (his grandfather was FDR Vice President Henry Wallace) and Navy vet Rachel Reddick (who’s backed by EMILY’s List).

The Wallace-vs.-Reddick primary has been negative over the airwaves, with Reddick attacking Wallace for previously being registered to vote in Maryland and for owning a home in South Africa. Meanwhile, Wallace – who has more money to spend in Philadelphia’s expensive media market – has fired back at Reddick, criticizing her for moving back to the district from DC and for being a past registered Republican.

PA-7: Talk about ideological diversity in the Democratic primary for the open competitive seat vacated by Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. On the right of the Dem spectrum is Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli – the frontrunner due to his name ID – who has deleted past tweets praising Trump and criticizing progressives. In the middle is former Allentown city solicitor Susan Wild (who’s backed by EMILY’s List). And on the left is pastor Greg Edwards (who’s supported by Bernie Sanders).

Huffington Post says this primary has become "a microcosm of the factional battles that have consumed the Democratic Party since the 2016 presidential primary. Lehigh Valley Democrats will get the chance to choose from a cautious Clintonian, a Sanders-style populist and a conservative Democrat hailing from the margins of the contemporary party."

NE-2: In a true Democratic establishment-vs.-progressive battle, former Democratic Congressman Brad Ashford has a primary race against liberal Kara Eastman. Per the Omaha World-Herald, Ashford wants to build upon the Affordable Care Act, while Eastman wants “Medicare For All”; Ashford supported TPP, while Eastman opposed it; and Ashford has campaigned on compromise, while Eastman says the district needs a fighter.

The winner will take on incumbent Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who narrowly beat Ashford in 2016, 49 percent to 48 percent.

RACES WITH INTERESTING STORYLINES

PA-6: Democrat Chrissy Houlahan — an Air Force veteran and one of Democrats’ favorite recruits nationwide — is unopposed in this district, which after redistricting looks like a Likely D seat. Assuming she wins in November, Pennsylvania would no longer be the largest state without a woman in its congressional delegation.

PA-14: Remember Rick Saccone, who lost to Democrat Conor Lamb in the PA-18 race? Well, he’s running for Congress again – in the revised 14th district. And Republican primary challenger Guy Reschenthaler is airing this TV ad against him: “Saccone already lost a safe Republican seat. Even President Trump called Saccone ‘weak.’”

ID GOV: The GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Gov. Butch Otter includes Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and developer Tommy Ahlquist. “The three represent the range of the Republican Party, from the furthest-right social conservatism of Labrador, a founding member of the House’s Freedom Caucus, to the establishment business-centric Republicanism of Little and the outsider firebrand of Ahlquist,” Vox writes.

A day of celebration vs. a day of violence in the Middle East

The New York Times on yesterday’s split screen of celebration and violence in the Middle East: “Across the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, loudspeakers on minarets urged Palestinians to rush the fence bordering Israel, where they were met by army snipers. At least 58 were killed and thousands injured, local officials said — the worst day of carnage there since Israel invaded Gaza in 2014.”

“Hours later, a beaming Ivanka Trump helped unveil a stone marker etched with her father’s name on the new American Embassy in Jerusalem, keeping his campaign promise to officially acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. An audience of 800 religious conservatives and right-wing politicians from both countries sang ‘Hallelujah.’”

Be sure to check out this Times video highlighting the two different scenes.

Possible Dem 2020ers gather at liberal conference

Today, the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress is hosting an “Ideas” conference featuring prominent Dem politicians and several potential 2020 candidates. Here’s a tick-tock of the schedule:

9:00 am ET

Conversation of the State of the Economy (Sherrod Brown, Paul Krugman)

Panel on Democracy and the Rule of Law (Amy Klobuchar, Ted Lieu, Sally Yates)

Speech on inclusivity and opportunity (Julian Castro)

10:55 am ET

Panel on Women’s Power (Kirsten Gillibrand, Maria Teresa Kumar, Cecile Richards)

Speech on Cities Leading with Bold Ideas (Bill de Blasio)

12:25 pm ET

Lunch keynote on economic justice (Cory Booker)

1:15 pm ET

Panel on National Security (Stephanie Murphy, Terri Sewell, Denis McDonough)

Speech on progressive leadership in the states (Phil Murphy of NJ)

Panel on climate change (Jay Inslee, Tom Steyer)

2:50 pm ET

Speech on criminal justice (Bernie Sanders)

Panel on reducing gun violence (Chris Murphy)

Speech on LGBTQ rights (Sarah McBride)

Conversation on progressivism in the New South (Doug Jones)

Speech on race in America (Ibram Kendi)

Speech on health care (Joseph Kennedy III)

Keynote address on democracy (Elizabeth Warren)

4:50 pm ET

Conference concludes

Another strange twist in the Greitens story in Missouri

“In a stunning development, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Monday dropped her prosecution of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in the face of the defense team’s plan to call her as a witness,” the Kansas City Star writes. “Yet Republican legislative leaders said later that evening that Gardner's decision would have no impact whatsoever on whether the Missouri General Assembly moves forward with impeachment, a process set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday. GOP leaders also renewed their call for Greitens to resign immediately.”

More: "Greitens faced a felony charge based on allegations that he took a partially nude photograph of a woman without her consent while they were having an affair in 2015. She was allegedly bound and blindfolded when the photo was taken, and she says he threatened to release it if she ever spoke about the affair. Judge Rex Burlison agreed to unseal the transcripts related to his decision to allow Greitens' legal team to depose the prosecutor. Scott Rosenblum, a member of Greitens' team, said the judge's decision was based on the probability that Gardner had knowledge of perjury committed by a private investigator hired by her office."

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