State of the Midterms: Republicans see glimmer of hope in Florida contests, as NJ heats up

Republicans are starting to see a ray of sunshine in Florida, despite indications that the GOP nominees in the state’s marquee Senate and gubernatorial contests are struggling.

In the race for governor, Trump-aligned Ron DeSantis has been trailing Democrat Andrew Gillum in virtually every poll since the summer. But a survey conducted for Gray Television by Strategic Research Associates showed DeSantis ahead by 3 points, 48-45 percent. This is within the 3.46 point margin of error – but comes as another state poll puts Gillum ahead by just 1 point, reflecting, at the least, a horse race.

On the Senate side, recent polls also have shown the race tightening between outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, after the incumbent led in a spree of earlier surveys.

The Real Clear Politics polling average still shows Democrats ahead by a few points in both races – but it’s an edge the president may be actively working to eliminate.

Politico reports that the White House fears a "wipeout" and is now plotting a “rescue mission” for the GOP candidates, with plans for President Trump to visit Florida at least twice and discussions of a possible presidential robo-call.

The report reflects an obvious concern for the president specific to the governor’s race: Trump wants to keep Tallahassee in Republican hands, so an incumbent ally can help his efforts to win the critical swing state in 2020.

The stakes may not be quite so high on the Senate side. Even if Scott loses, the midterm map continues to reflect a solid Republican advantage in the race for Senate control. Fox News’ Power Rankings puts 50 seats in the Republican column (including those likely or leaning Republican, and GOP seats not up for election this year), and 45 in the Democratic column, with five races rated as “toss-up.”

FOX NEWS POWER RANKINGS AND FULL MIDTERM COVERAGE

Democrats continue to hold the edge in the race for the House. The Real Clear Politics map shows 205 House seats tilting Democratic, and 199 tilting Republican, with 31 in the “toss-up” column. Fox News’ Power Rankings similarly puts the split at 207 seats for Democrats and 197 for Republicans, and the rest up in the air. It takes 218 seats to claim a majority.

Of the two big Florida races, the gubernatorial contest is the nastier.

DeSantis and Gillum squared off earlier this week for their final debate – where Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, called DeSantis a liar, said he should be disqualified and questioned his taxpayer-funded trips while in Congress.

“Release the receipts, it’s that simple,” Gillum said, accusing DeSantis of using the “Trump handbook” to run against him.

But the debate also focused on reports that Gillum accepted tickets to “Hamilton” from an undercover FBI agent in 2016. The information emerged in connection with an ethics probe. Gillum said Wednesday he thought the ticket came from his younger brother, acknowledging “I should have asked more questions.”

Meanwhile, another race once seen as a lock for Democrats may be growing more competitive. Recent polls show New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez' lead over Republican Bob Hugin narrowing, as national Democratic groups scramble to pump money into the contest and keep the seat blue.

Cook Political Report, reflecting how unexpectedly competitive the contest has become, announced Friday it is moving the race from "lean Democratic" to "toss-up."

“The contest isn’t about anything else but Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his ethics problems,” Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy wrote, noting wealthy pharmaceutical exec Hugin has outspent the incumbent by nearly 3-1, with much of that going toward brutal TV ads.

The Cook rating remains an outlier, however. Fox News’ Power Rankings, Inside Elections, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball (at the University of Virginia Center for Politics) list the race as “likely Democratic.”

The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Menendez ahead roughly 8 points, but recent polls have reflected a steady tightening.

Fox News’ Frank Miles contributed to this report.