5 things to watch as Florida votes in the midterms

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

MIAMI - After months of campaigning and millions of minutes of political ads, the midterms are finally here. And not surprisingly, all eyes are on Florida, which again has a number of races attracting national attention.

Here are five things to watch as voters head to the polls Tuesday:

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Andrew Gillum rejects conventional wisdom

For nearly two decades, Florida Democrats unsuccessfully sought the governor's mansion by playing to the center. Even in this year’s Democratic primary, perceived front-runner Gwen Graham, the daughter of a former governor, was touting her moderate credentials. Gillum threw out that playbook and won. As the race turned to the general election against former Rep. Ron DeSantis, Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, has stuck with this strategy, focusing on progressive issues such as gun control and Medicare for all.

Like Stacey Abrams who is running for governor in neighboring Georgia, Gillum is betting on bringing out new Democratic voters rather than courting fickle independents and disillusioned Republicans. The polls show Gillum with a healthy lead, and if he wins and becomes Florida’s first black governor, he could change how Democrats run in Florida statewide for years to come.

Will Rick Scott's last-minute ad blitz pay off?

Sen. Bill Nelson has maintained a small but healthy lead in the final weeks before Election Day. But taking a page from his successful bids for Florida governor, Scott, a wealthy former businessman, has injected a last-minute infusion of campaign cash into the race, buying millions of dollars' worth of TV ads.

Scott and his allies have flooded the airwaves with ads depicting the 76-year-old Nelson as old and confused. In one ad, female actors talk about how they need to send Nelson, who has served in the Senate since 2001, back to Florida for good. Meanwhile, on the positive side, Scott is portraying himself as a seasoned leader who knows how to handle a crisis such as Hurricane Michael, which slammed the Panhandle in October.

Many political experts credited Scott's last-minute spending spree in 2014 with putting him over the edge against his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist.

Vote could shake up Miami-Dade's Congressional delegation

While incumbents are expected to sail to easy victories in Broward and Palm Beach counties, three of Miami-Dade County's congressional races are shaping up to be actual races.

When Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, announced her retirement, most political observers saw an easy win for Democrats in a district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 points in 2016. But the race for Florida's 27th Congressional District, which includes downtown Miami and Miami Beach, has defied those predictions.

Democrats narrowly nominated former University of Miami President Donna Shalala, a veteran of the Clinton administration, while Republican voters chose former Spanish-language TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. Shalala is still expected to eke out a victory but Salazar, fueled by her outreach to Spanish-language voters, has made a once foregone conclusion into a real race.

Another reversal of fortune is playing out in Florida's 26th Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo is running neck and neck with former college administrator Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Curbelo has successfully marketed himself as a moderate who works across the aisle on issues such as immigration. Mucarsel-Powell, however, has chipped away at Curbelo's advantage, running ads to highlight his votes on health care and the recent tax cut, which Curbelo helped write.

Finally, in Florida's 25th Congressional District, veteran Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is facing a spirited challenge from former Judge Mary Barzee Flores. In Congress since 2002, Diaz-Balart is expected to hold on to his seat. But Barzee Flores has made this solid red district a lighter shade of pink.

Don’t get stumped by Florida’s long list of amendments

While the Florida gubernatorial and Senate races have received the most news coverage, voters were also hungry for information about Florida's many ballot questions. Local 10’s Glenna Milberg gave voters a primer on the often confusingly written amendments, which has become one of most popular stories on our website.

The most closely watched question will be Amendment 4 and it could restore voting rights to 1.4 million of Florida’s 1.68 million felons. Amendment 4 would only apply to those who have completed their sentences. People convicted of murder or sex offenses would still be prohibited from voting. A surge of new eligible voters could shake up future races in Florida, which has more than earned the title of the swingiest of swing states.

Will Miami soccer finally find a home? 

South Florida ballots will also be filled with local questions. One of the most high-profile ones is whether a plan to build a soccer stadium on the site of a city-owned golf course will move forward. Miami voters will decide if an ownership team led by former soccer star David Beckham and local businessman Jorge Mas can bypass rules on no-bid contracts to build a home for the planned Miami Freedom Major League Soccer team that also includes offices, stores and an entertainment venue.

Opponents worry that replacing Melreese Country Club with the soccer site will eliminate one of the few open green spaces in the city and put programs that teach young people to golf at risk.

While the Miami Freedom’s bid boasts a charismatic spokesman in Beckham and soccer is hugely popular with South Florida sports fans, many still have buyer's remorse about the pricey deal that built a stadium for the Miami Marlins. Mas has stressed this deal will be a boon for taxpayers and bring in millions for the city. But will voters believe him?

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