When early voting started in Florida two weeks ago, voters in many parts of the state walked into polling stations seeing green sludge and smelling dead fish. A state of emergency has been declared statewide as Florida experiences a months-long algae bloom that has killed thousands of fish, shut down beaches, and sickened locals. It’s not the first algae bloom to hit the state, but its proximity to Tuesday’s primary—and the fact that nearly all of Florida’s state-level elected positions are open—means this environmental crisis is playing an outsize role in voting.
In the state’s marquee race, Republican Governor Rick Scott is challenging Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in his bid for reelection, with control of the U.S. Senate in play. The two candidates blame each other for the algae blooms wreaking havoc along Florida’s southwest coastline. Scott claims that solving the problem requires federal action, and he argues that Nelson has not done enough in his three-term tenure in the Senate to support affected communities. Nelson, meanwhile, says it’s largely a state matter—making Scott, who is term limited after eight years as governor, the one at fault.
The issue has taken on even more importance in the race to replace Scott, in which Democrats and Republicans alike admit that whoever moves into the governor’s mansion in January will have a leading role in solving the problem. Five main candidates are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination: The frontrunner, Gwen Graham, a one-term member of Congress; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; the billionaire real-estate developer Jeff Greene, and the Orlando businessman Chris King. On the Republican side, Trump-backed Congressman Ron DeSantis and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam face off in a tight race.