Five takeaways from Nelson and Scott's first debate

Five takeaways from Nelson and Scott's first debate
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Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon MORE (D-Fla.) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) engaged in a bitter war of words in the first debate of their Senate race on Tuesday, touching on issues ranging from the state’s algae crisis to the embattled nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

As the attacks unfolded, a theme emerged in the debate, with Nelson repeatedly accusing Scott of dishonest politics and Scott casting Nelson as a failed career politician.

Here are five takeaways from Friday night’s debate.


Trump’s agenda was on full display

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE’s name rarely came up in the hourlong debate between Scott and Nelson. But the same can't be said for his policies.

The debate touched on the Trump administration’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, its "zero tolerance" immigration policy and the controversy swirling around Kavanaugh.

“You see children being taken away from their families at the border, which, by the way, when it was happening, my opponent was silent,” Nelson said at one point, referring to the Trump administration policy that resulted in the separation of thousands of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a rebuttal, Scott called to protect beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump rescinded last year.

Also on the table: the Trump administration’s handling of the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last fall. Nelson blasted the administration for treating “the citizens of Puerto Rico as second-class citizens,” while Scott said he was more concerned with helping families than following Trump’s line on the matter.

While Democratic dissatisfaction with Trump has been front-and-center in the midterm elections, Nelson is vying for reelection in a state that voted narrowly for Trump in 2016.


Scott, on the other hand, has at times played down his alliance with Trump as he seeks a Senate seat in a state with historically unpredictable electoral outcomes.

It’s Nelson’s tenure vs. Scott’s honesty

Since launching his Senate bid back in April, Scott has sought to cast Nelson as a career politician with little to show for his 40-year career in government and politics. An early campaign ad noted 1978 as the year that launched the now-defunct Ford Pinto and Nelson’s congressional career.

That line of attack was ever-present in Tuesday’s debate, with Scott repeatedly arguing that Nelson had done little with his time in Washington. At one point, he suggested that his Democratic opponent was “an example of why we need term limits.”

"Sen. Nelson has been there for decades,” Scott said. “When does he take responsibility?"

Nelson, however, tried to cast the Senate race as a referendum on what he called Scott’s dishonesty and conflicts of interest. He said during the debate that the Florida governor had retreated to a strategy of distraction to avoid answering questions about his own record in office.

"The governor keeps coming out with one whopper after another. Apparently you never got your mouth washed out with soap after telling a lie," Nelson said at one point.

The Florida Senate race has emerged, in a way, as a contest between two incumbents: Nelson, a three-term senator and former representative, and Scott, the term-limited governor. Tuesday’s debate underscored each candidate’s strategy to use their political records against one another.

Kavanaugh fight enters the spotlight

With controversy — and an FBI investigation — looming over Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Nelson and Scott represented dueling partisan perspectives.

Nelson said that Kavanaugh proved in his fiery, emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that he is not fit to serve on the nation’s highest court.

"The judge in his response, there was just not the temperament that is needed of what you want to put someone on the highest court in the land," Nelson said.

He also said that he believes the allegations of one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, who also testified before the panel last week, and argued that Republican lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee all but dismissed the woman’s testimony.

Scott, on the other hand, appeared to echo Kavanaugh’s claim that his confirmation hearing had been disgraceful. The governor compared it to a “circus” and accused Nelson of being complicit in a Democratic effort to obstruct Republican agenda items.

"The way the U.S. Senate has handled this is a circus, it's more like a Jerry Springer show," Scott said. "Sen. Nelson is a partisan politician, that all he does is attack Republicans and defend Democrats."

It’s still unclear exactly how Kavanaugh’s nomination — or eventual confirmation — could affect the midterm elections in November. But many Republicans have stood by the nominee in an effort to avoid isolating conservative voters or running the risk of receiving a rebuke from Trump himself.

Parkland shooting looms large

The deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February is reverberating throughout the state's elections, and Tuesday’s Senate debate was no exception.

Nelson pointed to Scott’s “A rating” from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and accused him of failing to implement new rules and regulations that he said could help address mass shootings like the one in Parkland, where 17 people were killed.

In attendance at the debate was Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting and who has endorsed Nelson’s reelection bid. At one point, Nelson said that he hoped Scott would vow to Guttenberg that he would not back the pro-gun policies of the NRA.

“I hope, governor, that you will look Fred Guttenberg in the face and tell him that you’re not going to support those kinds of policies that you have with the NRA,” Nelson said.


Scott offered sympathy for Guttenberg and the family members of other victims and touted legislation that he signed into law earlier this year that allows law enforcement to confiscate firearms from people determined to be a danger to themselves or others. But he also said that he stood by the right to bear arms.

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in all of the amendments in the Bill of Rights,” he said.

Health care and the environment are key issues

Scott and Nelson blamed one another for the green algae and red tide that has plagued the southern Florida Peninsula, with the governor arguing that Nelson had failed to secure federal funding for cleanup efforts and the senator accusing Scott of effectively hollowing out the state’s environmental agencies.

“He has never done anything to get us the money to fix the dike at Lake Okeechobee, which is a 100 percent federal project,” Scott said.

“He has systematically — in his eight years as governor —systematically disassembled the environmental agencies of this state,” Nelson said. “He’s drained the water management districts of funding.”

The debate also turned at one point to health care, an issue that has made its way front-and-center in Democratic campaigns across the country.


Nelson boasted that Florida has benefited more than any state from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and hit Scott for his longtime calls to repeal the law. Scott responded by calling former President Obama’s signature health-care measure a “lemon law,” saying that it should have been rescinded immediately.

“What they said it was going to do, it didn’t do it,” he said, repeating a line long used by Republicans to argue that Democrats misled Americans about the ACA.

Democrats in races across the country have seized on the issue of health care throughout the 2018 election cycle, and Nelson is no exception. The ACA has generally suffered in public opinion, but the law has found new popularity amid failed efforts by the GOP to repeal it.