Hurricane Michael derails Florida campaigns weeks before midterm elections

In response to mother nature’s October surprise, candidates in Florida’s multiple contentious statewide elections have paused their campaigns due to the approaching hurricane – just weeks before the midterm elections.

By Monday, Hurricane Michael was a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph. Hurricane weather advisories have been issued from the Suwannee River to the Alabama-Florida border as the storm continues on its trek through the Gulf of Mexico.

Gov. Rick Scott has issued a state of emergency for 26 counties to rush preparations in the Panhandle and Big Bend areas, freeing up resources and activating some 500 members of the Florida National Guard.

“This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous,” Scott said Sunday, warning of the potentially perilous storm surges the storm could bring.

A Republican, Scott is running for U.S. Senate after his reign as Florida’s governor will come to an end due to term limits. He has reportedly suspended his campaign ahead of the storm.

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Scott, who has made handling of past storms a theme in one of his more recent campaign ads, is facing incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, in the November election. Nelson reportedly has plans to meet with emergency response officials before Michael hits.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum said he’s returning to his home city in the Panhandle to prepare for the storm. His campaign said events planned later this week in South Florida are canceled.

“Everyone please stay safe, stay informed and be prepared for these changing weather conditions,” Gillum wrote on Twitter.

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During a press briefing on the storm, Scott was asked about working with Gillum ahead of the storm. The governor said his “job is to work with everyone” across his state, and he acknowledged that he’s reached out to several mayors and sheriffs already.

Gillum and Scott notoriously traded jabs regarding relief efforts after Hurricane Hermine hit Florida in 2016 over whether city officials were doing enough to get electricity restored in the heavily tree-lined city. Republicans have aired ads that fault Gillum, who has been Tallahassee’s mayor since 2014, for the power outages after Hermine.

While Gillum does not directly control the city-owned utility, he was forced to answer questions two years ago about why Tallahassee officials turned down help from at least one outside utility company at the time. His campaign has contended the ads paid for by the Florida Republican Party are false.

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GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis praised Scott for his “tremendous leadership” ahead of the storm and said his family is “keeping those in its path in our thoughts and prayers.” The former congressman also said he is “redirecting my Panhandle campaign staff and volunteers to help prepare their communities ahead of the storm.”

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who is up for re-election this year, blasted DeSantis on Twitter for not “setting aside partisan differences regarding hurricanes and other emergencies” ahead of Michael. He called on DeSantis to “unite with the rest of Florida, take down his false attack ads, and help those facing down this coming storm.”

“During Hurricane Season, Ron DeSantis instead chose the Donald Trump playbook, attacking his opponent with disregard for the truth, and weaponizing the struggle that everyday Floridians face when in the path of the storm,” Crist, a former Republican governor of the state, said. “With Floridians now in the path of Tropical Storm Michael, it’s time for all of us to come together, to support those who might be affected by the looming storm.”

Both the Florida gubernatorial and Senate races are ranked tossups by Fox News.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.