Why Rick Scott's Senate candidacy is very, very good news for Republicans

key race analysis cillizza florida orig vstan_00003527
key race analysis cillizza florida orig vstan_00003527


    Florida becomes a (costly) toss-up


Florida becomes a (costly) toss-up 01:44

Washington (CNN)Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) decision on Monday to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D) this November wasn't terribly unexpected. But, it is still very good news for a Republican Party desperate for some.

Yes, there is the obvious fact that Scott running means that Nelson will face the most serious race since he won the Sunshine State Senate seat in 2000. Scott is a sitting two-term governor, and polls suggest that he and Nelson are running close; the Real Clear Politics poll of polls in the race shows Nelson with a small single-digit lead.
The less obvious but more important impact of Scott's candidacy is that Democrats will now have to spend heavily -- VERY heavily -- to hold (or try to hold) the Florida seat. And that means less money for other potential races. Spending on Senate races is a zero-sum game -- every dollar spent in Florida is a dollar less spent in, say, Arizona or Nevada or Tennessee. And, Democrats are going to have to spend a WHOLE lot of money in Florida.
    In that calculation, the most important thing to know about Scott is not his two terms as governor of Florida. It's his previous life as a health care executive in which he became very, very rich. In each of his gubernatorial races, Scott spent heavily from his personal fortune; he dropped $75 million in his 2010 victory and, after saying he wouldn't need to contribute any cash to his re-election, dumped almost $13 million in at the end of that 2014 race.
    Scott, as of 2017, was worth at least $150 million -- making it likely he can spend a significant chunk of cash on his race against Nelson, in addition to the presumably large sum he can raise from pro-Trump donors around the country. (Scott has long been an ally of the President.)
    How high might the price tag go for the Florida seat?
    In 2016, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio got re-elected after promising to retire to run for president and then reconsidering when he lost that bid. Rubio spent north of $21 million while his Democratic opponent -- then Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) -- dropped $19 million. Third party spending -- the vast majority of which was conservative groups savaging Murphy -- totaled more than $46 million. Add it up and you've got almost $86 million spent between the two major party candidates and their various affiliated outside groups.
    In Nelson's last re-election race in 2012, he spent $17 million while then-Rep. Connie Mack (R) raised and spent $7.5 million. Add that to the $23 million that outside groups spent and you have a total of $48 million.
    To my mind, the $86 million spent in 2016 is the floor for the Nelson-Scott race -- particularly when you consider a) Scott's personal wealth and b) liberal donors' hatred for Scott. This race could easily top $100 million in total spending by both candidates, the party committees and super PACs.
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    Nelson, to his credit, is ready -- knowing for quite some time that Scott was likely to challenge him. As of the end of 2017, Nelson had already raised $10 million for the race, with more than $8 million in the bank.
    But, given that Scott can simply stroke a check for $10 million, it's almost impossible for Nelson to keep pace. Which means national Democrats -- whether in the form of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the super PAC world (or, likely, all of the above) will need to fill that gap in a major way.
    And, that could be a problem. Why? Because Senate Democrats have lots and lots of vulnerable incumbents up in November. There are 10 Democratic incumbents who hold seats that Trump won in 2016 -- including five that he won by double digits. Defending all 10 of those incumbents was going to be a costly proposition before Scott's candidacy; it just got much more expensive.
    That's even before you consider any offensive opportunities for Democrats in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and, a longer shot, Texas.
    Now, there are two mitigating factors:
    1. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ended February with $10 million more in the bank than its Republican counterpart.
    2. A number of the most vulnerable Democratic seats -- West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota -- are in relatively cheap states in which to run campaigns.
    Still, Scott's candidacy will stretch Senate Democratic strategists in ways they would rather not be stretched. And every dollar that goes to defending Nelson from Scott's personal checkbook is a dollar not spent on some other race -- whether on one of Nelson's Democratic colleagues or on a potential takeover chance.
    That's why Rick Scott really matters.