TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The bruising and expensive U.S. Senate race between Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is heading to a recount.
With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, Scott held a lead of 38,717 votes out of more than 8 million cast — a margin of less than one half of 1 percent. Under state law in Florida, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is less than 0.5 percentage points.
Scott had declared victory during an election party in his home town of Naples late Tuesday when near-total results showed a thin lead, saying the campaign had been “divisive and tough” but that he vowed to change the direction of Washington D.C.
“Change is never popular. I tried to use every effort to change the state of Florida and together we did,” Scott said.
However, Nelson did not publicly concede on Tuesday, instead releasing a brief statement on Wednesday saying, “We are preceding to a recount.”
“This obviously is not the result Sen. Nelson and his campaign had worked so hard for,” aide Pete Mitchell told remaining supporters at the election night event in Orlando.
In response on Wednesday, Chris Hartline, spokesman for Scott’s campaign, said, “This race is over. It’s a sad way for Bill Nelson to end his career. He is desperately trying to hold on to something that no longer exists.”
State officials will not officially order a recount until Saturday, when the first set of unofficial returns are due.
The two candidates are heavyweights within each party: Nelson has withstood years of GOP dominance to remain the only Democrat elected statewide, while Scott is a two-term governor urged by President Donald Trump to take Nelson on.
Nelson was been viewed as one of the more vulnerable Democrats thanks to the formidable challenge from Scott, a multimillionaire businessman who has poured more than $60 million of his own fortune into his campaign.
A loss by the 76-year-old Nelson would likely end his political career and make it nearly impossible for Democrats to retake the Senate. If Scott loses, it could be a blow to his future political ambitions.
While the two men differ on issues such as gun control and health care, the election has been more about character, competence, and their relationships with Trump.
When Scott first jumped in last April, the contest was seen as one of the marquee races in the nation. It was soon overshadowed by the governor’s race: a vitriolic competition between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum that has become a proxy battle between Trump and his Democratic opponents.
Scott also spent nearly two weeks off the campaign trail to respond to Hurricane Michael, which pummeled several counties in the Florida Panhandle and was responsible for dozens of deaths.
The two candidates disagreed on issues ranging from gun control to environmental policy to health care. Nelson was a strong supporter of the federal health care overhaul pushed into law by President Barack Obama, while Scott had called for the law to be repealed and replaced.
Scott, however, was forced to air a television ad in which he promised to retain the current plan’s consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Florida is among the states that are part of a lawsuit challenging the overhaul. The lawsuit was handled by Attorney General Pam Bondi and Scott maintained that he was not consulted about it before it was filed. But after he was aware of it, he remained largely silent until it became an issue in the campaign.
Differences between Scott and Nelson took a back seat to mutual disparagement and personal attacks, as well as Scott’s links to Trump. At first Scott distanced himself from the president, but in the final week of the race he showed up at two political rallies Trump held in Florida3
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