This is an unbiased comparison of the policies and political positions of Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, the Democratic and Republican candidates for the 2018 Senate election in Florida. Bill Nelson was the incumbent seeking reelection; Rick Scott was then governor of Florida seeking to represent the state in the U.S. Senate. Scott narrowly defeated Nelson to win the race.
|Bill Nelson||Rick Scott|
|Date of birth||September 29th 1942||December 1, 1952|
|Position on Healthcare||Strengthen the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare); supports Medicaid expansion to cover more uninsured adults and children whose income is less than 138% of the federal poverty line.||Opposes Obamacare or govt. support; Supports free market (privatization of healthcare). Opposed to Medicaid expansion|
|Position on Immigration||Supported comprehensive immigration reform bill of 2013 that passed the Senate 68-32, with 14 Republicans voting in favor. The bill provided a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, with stipulations.||"Secure" the border; supports DACA; wants to end sanctuary jurisdictions|
|Position on Gun Rights||NRA rating F. Supports ban on assault weapons; comprehensive and universal background checks.||NRA rating A+. Strong supporter of gun rights. Believes the problem at the root of mass shootings like Parkland isn't guns but mental health of young men.|
|Position on Abortion||Supports safe and legal access to abortion.||During his term as governor, Scott approved several abortion restrictions. e.g. mandating that a woman receive an ultrasound before an abortion, and adding new requirements to the state's Parental Notice of Abortion Act.|
|Current Position||United States Senator representing Florida||Governor of Florida|
|Profession||U.S. Army captain, lawyer, politician. In 1986, Bill Nelson spent 6 days in space aboard the Columbia space shuttle.||Lawyer; business executive|
Early Life and Career
Bill Nelson was born in Miami and received his BA from Yale University, before earning a law degree from the University of Virginia. He served in the US Army Reserve between 1968 and 1971, before being elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1972. He served in the US House of Representatives from 1978 to 1991. Nelson became Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida in 1994. He has served as the US Senator from Florida since 2000.
Rick Scott was born in Bloomington, Illinois. Scott was a petty officer in the U.S. Navy and went to college on the GI bill. He later served as an attorney for the firm Johnson and Swanson in Dallas. Scott co-founded the Columbia Hospital Corporation, which later became Columbia/HCA. The company was investigated — and admitted to — fraud and improper Medicare billing practices, and, in a settlement with the federal government, agreed to pay over $600 million. Scott was forced to resign as Chairman and CEO amidst these investigations.
Differences in Economic Policy
As a Republican, Rick Scott has said he favors lower taxes and less regulation. He supports requiring a supermajority vote of two-thirds of each house of Congress to approve any "tax or fee increase" before it can become law.
Nelson has advocated raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, if not $15.
Nelson supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and has worked to strengthen it by measures like a reinsurance fund for health insurers that offer plans on the exchanges.
Rick Scott has criticized the ACA and called it a "lemon law". His criticisms include premiums going up, deductibles and copayments rising, and the assurances President Obama gave about being able to keep your existing health plan or doctor if you were happy with it.
Coverage for pre-existing conditions is a very popular feature of the ACA. Such coverage is very expensive for health insurers to provide so their losses were to be mitigated via the individual mandate i.e., by ensuring that everyone was required to get health insurance, the overall pool of insured people would include both healthy people and those with pre-existing conditions. Many Republicans — including Governor Scott — have said they are in favor of covering pre-existing conditions but against the individual mandate.
Bill Nelson has criticized Scott for joining 19 other states in filing a lawsuit against the ACA which claims the law is unconstitutional. Nelson has called it unconscionable.
Traditionally, eligibility for Medicaid has varied by state. Under the Affordable Care Act, hundreds of millions of dollars in extra federal funds would be made available to states that expanded Medicaid eligibility and chose to cover uninsured adults and children whose incomes are at or below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Some states jumped at the chance, others — including Florida under governor Scott — decided to opt out.
Bill Nelson would like all states to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover more people. Rick Scott is against expanding eligibility for Medicaid.
Unlike many Republicans, Rick Scott supports DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the policy that allows "DREAMers" to live in the country without fear of being deported. Other than that, his immigration policy only mentions being against illegal immigration. Scott is also against so-called sanctuary cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration agencies. Nelson has opposed passing laws that require cities to cooperate.
Nelson's campaign website does not mention immigration. In the past, he has said he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that would include paying a fine, having a clean record and learning English. In a debate question on immigration, Nelson cited his support for the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved 68-32 by the Senate in 2013. Nelson said he voted in favor of the bill but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed to pass it and the bill died in spite of receiving bipartisan support in the Senate. The bill in question was geared toward shifting immigration from a family-based system to one that is focused on work skills, and had the following provisions:
- a 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with several security benchmarks that have to be met before they can obtain a green card.
- increased security along the border
- a mandatory workplace verification system for employers, trying to ensure that any immigrants offered a job are actually authorized to work in the United States.
- a new visa program for lesser-skilled workers
When the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy resulted in kids being separated from their families who were requesting asylum or trying to enter the country illegally, Nelson not only criticized the policy but also visited a detention center where he wasn't allowed to enter. Nelson has criticized Scott for remaining silent on the issue when many in the nation were outraged. Scott has said he disagreed with President Trump on the issue.
When running for governor, Rick Scott expressed support for an Arizona stop-and-frisk law that was later deemed unconstitutional because it was discriminatory.
For Venezuelans seeking asylum, Scott and Nelson have both said they favor granting them TPS (temporary protected status).
Gun control is an important issue for Floridians in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland in February 2018. Rick Scott has an A+ rating from the NRA and is a strong opponent of gun control regulations. He has said the problem is not guns or their easy availability; instead he has said we should ask why young men in this country do not value life. Scott has also said he supports background checks.
Bill Nelson has an NRA rating of F. He has said he is a hunter who grew up on a ranch but believes assault weapons aren't for hunting but only designed for killing. Nelson has called for
- a ban on "assault weapons",
- "universal and comprehensive" background checks
Differences in Foreign Policy
Position on Cuba
Both Nelson and Scott claim to be strongly against Cuban ruler Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro. Nelson has said that he has criticized the Castros so harshly that he wasn't allowed to visit an American prisoner in Cuba when he tried to. Scott has criticized Nelson for supporting President Obama's initiative to try and normalize relations with Cuba.
In their first debate, the two candidates were asked about the red tide and green algae plaguing the southern Florida Peninsula.
Scott said the red tide was a naturally occurring phenomenon and cited relief efforts he undertook as governor of the state. For the algae, Scott said that the dike at Lake Okeechobee was a "100% federal project" and blamed Nelson for not securing funding for fixing it.
Nelson blamed Scott for hollowing out the environmental protection agencies for the state of Florida, resulting in more pollution of the waters and leading to algae and red tide. Specific allegations Nelson has hurled on governor Scott in this regard are:
- "systematically disassembled the environmental agencies of the state"
- "drained the water management districts of funding"
- abolished the department of community affairs
When asked about disaster relief in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, Nelson criticized the Trump administration and FEMA for doing a poor job, citing the example of the power grid not being completely restored.
Rick Scott talked about the aid efforts he undertook as governor of Florida, and cited sending the national guard and highway patrol, getting Puerto Rican students in Florida schools and offering them in-state tuition.
Nelson retorted that he had the endorsement of Puerto Rico's governor because of his track record of getting funding for the island.
The first televised debate between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott took place on Oct 2. The full video is included below and the transcript is available here.
Opinion Poll Ratings
Most pundits have called the Florida senate race in 2018 a toss-up. Both candidates are running neck-and-neck in opinion polls; neither person's lead in a poll is well beyond the poll's margin of error.
|Poll source||Date(s) administered||Bill Nelson (D)||Rick Scott (R)||Sample size||Margin of error|
|NYT Upshot/Siena College||October 23–27, 2018||48%||44%||737||± 4.0%|
|YouGov||October 23–26, 2018||46%||46%||991||± 4.0%|
|Gravis Marketing||October 22–23, 2018||49%||45%||773||± 3.5%|
|Strategic Research Associates||October 16–23, 2018||46%||45%||800||± 3.5%|
|Saint Leo University||October 16–22, 2018||47%||38%||698||± 3.5%|
|St. Pete Polls||October 20–21, 2018||48%||49%||1,575||± 2.5%|
|Florida Atlantic University||October 18–21, 2018||41%||42%||704||± 3.6%|
|SurveyUSA||October 18–21, 2018||49%||41%||665||± 5.0%|
|Quinnipiac University||October 17–21, 2018||52%||46%||1,161||± 3.5%|
|Schroth, Eldon and Associates (D)||October 17–20, 2018||45%||47%||600||± 4.0%|
|CNN/SSRS (likely voters)||October 16–20, 2018||50%||45%||759 LV||± 4.2%|
|CNN/SSRS (registered voters)||October 16–20, 2018||49%||45%||872||± 3.9%|
|OnMessage Inc. (R-Scott)||October 14–18, 2018||46%||51%||2,200||± 2.1%|
|St. Pete Polls||October 15–16, 2018||47%||49%||1,974||± 2.2%|
|Florida Southern College||October 1–5, 2018||44%||46%||476||± 4.5%|
|St. Pete Polls||September 29–30, 2018||47%||47%||2,313||± 2.0%|
|Public Policy Polling (D-Protect Our Care)||September 28–30, 2018||48%||44%||779||± 3.5%|
|Strategic Research Associates||September 17–30, 2018||45%||44%||800||± 3.5%|
|Quinnipiac University||September 20–24, 2018||53%||46%||888||± 4.0%|
|Cherry Communications||September 19–24, 2018||48%||46%||622||± 4.4%|
|Marist College||September 16–20, 2018||48%||45%||600 LV||± 4.7%|
|Marist College||September 16–20, 2018||48%||43%||829 RV||± 4.0%|
|University of North Florida||September 17–19, 2018||45%||45%||603||–|
|Florida Atlantic University||September 13–16, 2018||41%||42%||850||± 3.3%|
|Ipsos||September 5–12, 2018||45%||46%||1,000||± 4.0%|
|Rasmussen Reports||September 10–11, 2018||45%||44%||800||± 3.5%|
|SurveyUSA||September 7–9, 2018||44%||46%||634||± 5.3%|
|Quinnipiac University||August 30 – September 3, 2018||49%||49%||785||± 4.3%|
|Gravis Marketing||August 29–30, 2018||47%||47%||1,225||± 2.8%|
|Public Policy Polling (D-EDGE Comms.)||August 29–30, 2018||46%||45%||743||± 4.0%|
|St. Pete Polls||August 29–30, 2018||47%||47%||1,755||± 2.3%|
|Florida Atlantic University||August 16–20, 2018||39%||45%||800||± 3.4%|
|Saint Leo University||August 10–16, 2018||36%||40%||500||± 4.5%|
|Mason-Dixon||July 24–25, 2018||44%||47%||625||± 4.0%|
|Florida Atlantic University||July 20–21, 2018||40%||44%||800||± 3.4%|
|Gravis Marketing||July 13–14, 2018||47%||43%||1,840||± 2.3%|
|SurveyMonkey/Axios||June 11 – July 2, 2018||46%||49%||1,080||± 5.0%|
|YouGov||June 19–22, 2018||41%||46%||839 LV||± 3.5%|
|YouGov||June 19–22, 2018||40%||42%||996 RV||± 3.5%|
|Marist College||June 17–21, 2018||49%||45%||947||± 3.9%|
|Public Policy Polling (D-EDGE Comms.)||June 18–19, 2018||48%||46%||1,308||± 3.2%|