While the race is up for grabs, there’s no question that Scott is outhustling Nelson in Latino communities across Florida, particularly among Puerto Rican constituents, who tend to vote Democratic. Since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico a year ago, he has made eight trips to the island to Nelson’s three. He spearheaded a state initiative to establish welcome centers at the Orlando and Miami airports, designed to help newcomers find their footing in their new home. (When Florida International University surveyed Florida’s Puerto Ricans in a poll released in June, Scott was seen more favorably than Nelson.) The governor takes daily Spanish lessons from one of his aides, a Venezuela native and newly minted U.S. citizen. In an interview with TIME aboard his bus during a recent 10-day campaign swing, the governor touted his efforts to become bilingual. “Practicing Spanish every day is important,” he said in his second language, leaning forward in his leather captain’s chair. “Twenty percent of those voting in this state speak Spanish.” (Nelson learned Spanish in 2003 as part of an intensive State Department program.)

Scott’s language classes help explain why, in a dismal year for Republicans, he is in an effective dead heat with a well-known incumbent in the nation’s largest swing state. Moreover, his outreach to Hispanics is a snapshot of an unsung trend that could keep the Senate in Republican hands. In several other key battlegrounds, including Arizona, Nevada and maybe even Texas, Democratic candidates are at risk of underperforming with Hispanic voters, lagging behind the numbers the party notched two years ago. “There’s a lot to be angry about in terms of what this Administration is doing,” says Mayra Macias, political director of the Latino Victory Project and a former Florida Democratic Party official. “But it’s not enough to be angry. You have to give Latinos something to vote for.”