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Florida, U.S. Senate

Term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) defeated three-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in the general election for the U.S. Senate in Florida on November 6, 2018.

Thirty-five of the 100 seats in the United States Senate were up for election in 2018, including two seats up for special election. Republicans gained four previously Democratic-held seats and Democrats gained two previously Republican-held seats, resulting in a net gain of two seats for the Republican Party and a 53-seat majority in the chamber. This race was identified as a 2018 battleground that might have affected partisan control of the chamber in the 116th Congress. At the time of the election, Republicans held a 51-seat Senate majority. Democrats held 47 seats, and the two independents caucused with them. Democrats faced greater partisan risk in 2018, as they were defending 26 seats while Republicans were only defending nine. Democrats had to defend seats in 10 states Donald Trump (R) won. The GOP defended one Senate seat in a state Hillary Clinton (D) won.

Elections forecasters called this race a toss-up. While Nelson won his re-election bid in 2012 by a margin of 13 points against Rep. Connie Mack (R)—55 percent to 42 percent—other statewide races, including presidential elections, were closely contested. Donald Trump (R) won the 2016 presidential election in Florida by 1.2 percentage points, while Barack Obama (D) won the state in the 2012 election by 0.9 percentage points and the 2008 election by 2.8 percentage points. Nelson was the only Democrat elected to statewide office in Florida, at the time of the election.

According to Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo of Politico, the election tested "the limits of whether a close alliance with President Donald Trump is political poison or a pathway to success in the nation’s biggest swing state."


U.S. Senate election in Florida, General election

Poll Poll sponsor Democratic Party Nelson Republican Party ScottUndecided/OtherMargin of errorSample size
St. Pete Polls
November 3-4, 2018 50%46%4%+/-1.83,088
Quinnipiac University
October 29-November 4, 2018
N/A 51%44%5%+/-3.51,142
St. Pete Polls
November 1-2, 2018 48%49%3%+/-1.92,733
Marist College
October 30-November 2, 2018
N/A 50%46%4%+/-5.0595
Gravis Marketing
October 29-November 2, 2018
N/A 48%46%6%+/-3.6753
AVERAGES 49.4% 46.2% 4.4% +/-3.16 1,662.2

U.S. Senate election in Florida, October 17-31, 2018

Poll Poll sponsor Democratic Party Nelson Republican Party ScottUndecided/OtherMargin of errorSample size
St. Pete Polls
October 30-31, 2018 49%47%3%+/-2.02,470
Vox Populi Polling
October 27-30, 2018
N/A 50%50%0%+/-3.7696
Trafalgar Group
October 29-30, 2018
N/A 49%47%4%+/-1.92,543
October 27-29, 2018
N/A 50%48%2%+/-4.4495
October 24-29, 2018
N/A 49%47%4%+/-4.3781
Suffolk University/USA TODAY
October 25-28, 2018
N/A 45%43%12%+/-4.4500
Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics
October 17-25, 2018
N/A 49%44%4%+/-3.41,069
AVERAGES 48.71% 46.57% 4.14% +/-3.44 1,222

U.S. Senate election in Florida, October 14-27, 2018

Poll Poll sponsor Democratic Party Nelson Republican Party ScottUndecided/OtherMargin of errorSample size
New York Times/Siena College
October 23-27, 2018
N/A 48%44%8%+/-4.0737
CBS News/YouGov
October 23-26, 2018
N/A 46%46%8%+/-4.0991
Florida Atlantic University
October 18-21, 2018
N/A 41%42%17%+/-3.6704
Strategic Research Associates
October 16-23, 2018
Gray Television 46%45%9%+/-3.5800
St. Pete Polls
October 20-21, 2018
N/A 48%49%3%+/-2.51,575
SurveyUSA/Spectrum News
October 18-21, 2018
N/A 49%41%10%+/-5.0665
Quinipiac University
October 17-21, 2018
N/A 52%46%2%+/-3.51,161
October 16-20, 2018
CNN 50%45%4%+/-4.2759
OnMessage Inc.
October 14-18, 2018
N/A 46%51%3%+/-2.12,200
AVERAGES 47.33% 45.44% 7.11% +/-3.6 1,065.78

U.S. Senate election in Florida, General election

Poll Bill Nelson (D) Rick Scott (R)Undecided/OtherMargin of ErrorSample Size
NBC News/Marist
September 16-20, 2018
Tampa Bay Times
September 17-20, 2018
Florida Atlantic University
September 13-16, 2018
Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics
September 5-12, 2018
Rasmussen Reports
September 10-11, 2018
August 30-September 3, 2018
Gravis Marketing
August 29-30, 2018
Florida Atlantic University
August 16-20, 2018
Mason-Dixon Polling
July 24-25, 2018
Florida Atlantic University
July 20-21, 2018
Axios/Survey Monkey
June 11-July 2, 2018
CBS News/YouGov
June 19-22, 2018
June 17-21, 2018
Florida Chamber of Commerce
May 25- June 4, 2018
Morning Consult
May 29-30, 2018
Florida Atlantic University
May 4-7, 2018
McLaughlin & Associates
March 10-13, 2018
Clearview Research
March 1-7, 2018
Quinnipiac University
February 23-26, 2018
Florida Atlantic University
February 1-4, 2018
University of North Florida
January 29-February 4, 2018
Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy
January 30-February 1, 2018
Gravis Marketing
November 19-24, 2017
St. Leo University
November 19-24, 2017
JMC Analytics
October 17-19, 2017

Campaign finance

The chart below contains data from financial reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission.

Name Party Receipts* Disbursements** Cash on hand Date
Rick Scott Republican Party $85,231,716 $83,771,112 $1,460,604 As of December 31, 2018
Bill Nelson Democratic Party $32,401,758 $32,418,266 $1,730,969 As of December 31, 2018

Source: Federal Elections Commission, "Campaign finance data," 2018.

* According to the FEC, "Receipts are anything of value (money, goods, services or property) received by a political committee."
** According to the FEC, a disbursement "is a purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money or anything of value to influence a federal election," plus other kinds of payments not made to influence a federal election.

Election history


The race for Florida's U.S. Senate seat was one of nine competitive battleground races in 2016 that that helped Republicans maintain control of the Senate. Incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R) defeated U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), Iraq war veteran Paul Stanton (L), and nine independent and write-in candidates in the general election, which took place on November 8, 2016. According to Politico, Rubio was “the first Republican senator from the Sunshine State ever to win reelection in a presidential election year.”

The heated race was full of personal attacks. Rubio called Murphy "hyper-partisan," "a rubber stamp for, God forbid, a Clinton presidency," and accused him of fabricating his qualifications. A CBS Miami report questioned Murphy's claims of being a certified public accountant and small business owner. Murphy's campaign called the report "deeply false."

Murphy attacked Rubio for missing votes and abandoning Florida voters while campaigning for president. During an interview, he said, "Sen. Rubio has the worst vote attendance record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years," a statement PolitiFact rated as "mostly true." He also accused Rubio of being a political opportunist. Murphy's spokeswoman Galia Slayen said, "Marco Rubio is willing to abandon his responsibility to Floridians and hand over our country's national security to Donald Trump, as long as it advances his own political career."

In his victory speech, Rubio said, “[I] hope that I and my colleagues as we return to work in Washington D.C. can set a better example how political discourse should exist in this country. And I know people feel betrayed and you have a right to. Every major institution in our society has failed us — the media, the government, big business, Wall Street, academia — they have all failed us. So people are so frustrated and angry. But we must channel that anger and frustration into something positive. Let it move us forward as energy to confront and solve our challenges and our problems.”

U.S. Senate, Florida General Election, 2016

Party Candidate Vote % Votes
Republican Green check mark transparent.pngMarco Rubio Incumbent 52% 4,835,191
Democratic Patrick Murphy 44.3% 4,122,088
Libertarian Paul Stanton 2.1% 196,956
Independent Bruce Nathan 0.6% 52,451
Independent Tony Khoury 0.5% 45,820
Independent Steven Machat 0.3% 26,918
Independent Basil Dalack 0.2% 22,236
N/A Write-in 0% 160
Total Votes 9,301,820
Source: Florida Division of Elections

U.S. Senate, Florida Republican Primary, 2016

Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngMarco Rubio Incumbent 72% 1,029,830
Carlos Beruff 18.5% 264,427
Dwight Young 6.4% 91,082
Ernie Rivera 3.2% 45,153
Total Votes 1,430,492
Source: Florida Division of Elections

U.S. Senate, Florida Democratic Primary, 2016

Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngPatrick Murphy 58.9% 665,985
Alan Grayson 17.7% 199,929
Pam Keith 15.4% 173,919
Roque De La Fuente 5.4% 60,810
Reginald Luster 2.6% 29,138
Total Votes 1,129,781
Source: Florida Division of Elections

U.S. Senate, Florida Libertarian Primary, 2016

Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngPaul Stanton 73.5% 2,946
Augustus Invictus Sol 26.5% 1,063
Total Votes 4,009
Source: Florida Division of Elections


On November 6, 2012, Bill Nelson won re-election to the United States Senate. He defeated Connie Mack (R), Bill Gaylor (I), and Chris Borgia (I) in the general election.

U.S. Senate, Florida General Election, 2012

Party Candidate Vote % Votes
Democratic Green check mark transparent.pngBill Nelson Incumbent 55.2% 4,523,451
Republican Connie Mack 42.2% 3,458,267
Independent Bill Gaylor 1.5% 126,079
Independent Chris Borgia 1% 82,089
N/A Write-ins 0% 60
Total Votes 8,189,946
Source: Florida Election Watch "U.S. Senator"


Demographic data for Florida

Total population:20,244,914316,515,021
Land area (sq mi):53,6253,531,905
Race and ethnicity**
Black/African American:16.1%12.6%
Native American:0.3%0.8%
Pacific Islander:0.1%0.2%
Two or more:2.4%3%
High school graduation rate:86.9%86.7%
College graduation rate:27.3%29.8%
Median household income:$47,507$53,889
Persons below poverty level:19.8%11.3%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, "American Community Survey" (5-year estimates 2010-2015)
for more information on the 2020 census and here for more on its impact on the redistricting process in Florida.

As of July 2017, Florida's three largest cities were Jacksonville (pop. est. 860,000), Miami (pop. est. 430,000), and Tampa (pop. est. 360,000).