FLORIDA — It's a scenario no one predicted: a monster hurricane slamming into North Florida during the final month before the 2018 general election.

  • Storm damage could negatively affect voter turnout, experts say
  • Spotlight now on state leaders; performance in recovery could affect votes
  • Poll still showing tight races for Senate, Governor

Experts believe Hurricane Michael could hurt voter turnout in the highly Republican region of the state.

“Nobody’s first thought at this point and time is 'who am I going to vote for in three weeks?'” said USF St. Petersburg's Darryl Paulson. “Their first thought is 'how am I going to put the pieces back together again? How am I going to rebuild? How am I going to take care of my family?'”

Meanwhile, the devastating hurricane has put two state and local leaders in the spotlight.

Governor and 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott and Tallahassee Mayor and Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum have suspended campaign efforts and have been performing official duties since the storm.

“As much benefit as the Governor and Mayor may get out of the positions they may hold, it can just as easy turn as a liability if things don’t go right,” said USF's Susan MacManus. 

Meanwhile, incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’s response to the storm could be just as critical. DeSantis was recently criticized for an launching a political ad criticizing Gillum’s handling of a previous hurricane.

“Each party is accusing the other of trying to take advantage of a bad situation to raise money,” MacManus said.

Eventually, Nelson and Scott could be held accountable for how quickly state and federal financial relief makes it to the Panhandle.

“The longer it takes, the more people start to get antsy and start blaming politicians for not making things happen so quickly,” MacManus said.

According to analysts, a bad move could easily cost a candidate 2-3 percent of the vote.

With polls showing tight races for Senate and Governor, those votes could make a significant difference.