Florida's Republican Primaries Are Donald Trump vs. the Establishment

In Florida's Republican primaries, the GOP is at a crucial crossroads that could determine the long-term direction of the party. Tuesday night's results could signal whether President Donald Trump's "drain the swamp" appeal can translate to midterm success.

The Republican gubernatorial primary to replace outgoing governor Rick Scott is tight, with an established Republican facing off against a far-right Trump supporter. On the Senate side, primaries are essentially a mere formality, and the general race is already underway, again, between a Trump-aligned Rick Scott and moderate Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

Nelson is trailing Scott in poll numbers and fundraising, worrying the Democratic leadership. Nelson, who has served for more than 17 years, is generally considered a congenial legislator who isn't afraid to work across the aisle. Scott, on the other hand, first came to office during the Tea Party boom. He has a long history of supporting regulatory and environmental rollbacks, has an A+ NRA rating, and wants to ban abortions and same-sex marriage.

Scott has run a number of ads characterizing Nelson as a part of the D.C. swamp. "That's what's wrong with our broken Congress. Everybody is a party-line voter, and Bill Nelson is one of those," said a Floridian featured in the ad. "I think Nancy Pelosi is a huge influence on the Democratic Party and Bill Nelson," another chimed in.

A campaign ad by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis touted his extreme admiration for President Trump. The ad shows DeSantis playing "build the wall" with his young daughter, reading The Art of the Deal to his infant son and teaching his daughter to say "Make America Great Again." The ad doesn't take itself too seriously, but it gets the message across.

"He's basically a Trump hologram," Mac Stipanovich, a Florida GOP strategist, told the Los Angeles Times. "Trump just projects him on the screen and the Republican faithful go stumbling in his direction like lemmings heading toward a cliff."

DeSantis, a representative for Florida's 6th District and a Fox News commentator, was considered an underdog in the race until he won an endorsement from the president. His most recent polling shows him within one point of his opponent, moderate Republican and career politician Adam Putnam.

DeSantis often tells his supporters that he wants to "drain the swamp in Tallahassee," a direct jab at Putnam.

But some analysts worry that if DeSantis wins his primary, he won't be able to "correct to center" for the general election in what is still a swing state.

"If it's going to be all about Trump," Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida told the Orlando Sentinel, "it makes it easy for the Democratic Party to unite."