Update: The numbers of votes in this race continue to change as elections officials continue their tallies. Please look back at the main Florida Phoenix website for the latest stories – and vote totals – in this race.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott has more votes than Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the most expensive Senate race in the country, but Nelson said Wednesday he will call for a recount.
Unofficial results show that Nelson trails Scott by 0.38 percent, which would trigger an automatic recount.
Although many observers believed Scott ran a better race than Nelson, polls in the last two weeks were all trending in the Democrat’s favor. But as was the case in the similarly close governor’s race, Republicans showed up big on Election Day to win the contest.
The close margin similar to Scott’s two victories for governor in 2010 and 2014, when he won both races by just a little more than one percentage point.
As he has done in his two previous runs for state office, he spent an extraordinary amount of his own money to get him over the finish line. Open Secrets reports that Scott spent $68 million in the race, with Nelson spending $27 million.
The governor took himself off the campaign trail for several weeks after Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Panhandle in mid-October, but his leadership after the storm gave him plenty of free media. Ironically, the storm came around the same time that his campaign began airing television ads demonstrating his leadership after Hurricane Irma hit the Sunshine State back in September of 2017.
Although never extremely popular during his two terms as governor, Scott peaked at the right time in 2017-2018. In addition to his work bringing the state back from Irma’s storm damage, he also earned points with some moderates by taking on the National Rifle Association earlier this year following the shocking massacre at a Parkland high school which resulted in the deaths of 17 people.
Scott pushed the state Legislature to accept a bill that had significant opposition from both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature – Republicans didn’t like some of the modest gun-control measures, while liberal Democrats thought the bill didn’t go far enough. Nevertheless, it passed, and was considered a big victory for the governor.
Scott also campaigned hard for the Puerto Rican vote in the aftermath of devasting Hurricane Maria which hit the U.S. territory back in the fall of 2017.
Some analysts have always considered Scott to be more of a fit in Washington D.C. than in Tallahassee. He first entered the political world back in the 1990’s as a major critic of the Clinton administration’s attempts to reform the health care system in America.
That’s when he was leading Columbia/HCA, which would become the largest health care chain in the world. He would later be ousted by his own board of directors in what became the nation’s biggest health care scandal, leading to a $1.7 billion fine to the company.
Both Alex Sink, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2010, and Charlie Crist, the Democrats’ 2014 candidate, were unsuccessful in bringing attention to voters about that health care scandal. Nelson also aired television commercials about the fine.
For Nelson, if he were to lose, it comes after serving 18 years in the U.S. Senate. Observers had long noted that he had been extremely fortunate during his two previous runs for re-election, having beaten weak opponents in Congresswoman Katherine Harris in 2006 and Congressman Connie Mack IV in 2012.
Nelson’s career in public service began in the 1970s, a fact that Scott used to devastating effect during the campaign, where he ran negative ads essentially accusing Nelson of accomplishing very little for all of his decades in public office.
Nelson was considered a champion on the environment, and while having the reputation as a centrist, voted mostly along party lines during his time in the Senate.