If there’s one skill U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has mastered during his nearly fifty years on the public payroll, it’s how to walk a political tightrope. And that’s exactly what he has to do now with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. He’s in a situation where he needs to fail, but look like he’s trying. It’s an art he’s mastered.
Locked in a tight race with Governor Rick Scott for the right to keep his own job, Nelson announced last week that he would vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh – before the FBI investigation was even complete. Nelson had no choice, of course, because he’s a Democrat and he would have been pilloried by his own party had he shown some backbone and broke from the party line.
But there is ample evidence that the Democrat’s handling of the Kavanaugh confirmation has backfired, in some cases, badly. Polls around the country have tightened up, shifting noticeably in favor of Republican candidates. Florida is no different. A poll early Thursday revealed the race between Nelson and Scott was back to within a single percentage point, which bad news for Nelson, who was leading only a week earlier.
But don’t take Fox News’ word for it. Even Democrat poll-cruncher / forecaster Nate Silver sees the shift:
One plausible narrative is that the Kavanaugh hearings are helping to excite Republican voters and reduce the “enthusiasm gap” with Democrats. As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn points out, you can cobble together a credible case that polls since last Thursday’s Senate hearings have been comparatively good for Republicans.
Silver admits that there are some Democrat polls showing positive trends for some Democrat candidates, but then he gets down to business, starts crunching the data, and in three different models (Lite, Classic and Deluxe), all three show bad news for Bill Nelson and Senate Democrats in general:
Yes, you’re reading those numbers right. They show that Senate Democrats are worse off now than they were before the lastest round of Kavanaugh hearings – no matter how you slice the data. Silver finally concludes:
Overall, I’m inclined to conclude there’s actually something there for Republicans — that their position has genuinely improved from where it was a week ago (although, not necessarily as compared to where it was a month ago). But I’m also wary of the idea that this is necessarily a turning point, since it wouldn’t take much — a couple of good generic ballot polls for Democrats, plus a handful of good state-level results in places like North Dakota — to reverse the GOP gains in our forecast. There is truth in the idea that Republicans have had a decent week of polling, but it can also be exaggerated by cherry-picking data that’s consistent with a particular narrative.
In short, Bill Nelson desperately needs Brett Kavanaugh to be confirmed. That’s the only outcome that will allow him to avoid the electoral backlash from an outraged and energized GOP base while reaping the benefits of an outraged liberal base. Like he’s done for almost half a century, Nelson will once again tell his supporters with a straight face that even though he failed to accomplish anything, at least he tried. That’s the empty suit Bill Nelson way.