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Posted: Friday, November 9, 2018 12:15 am | Updated: 9:57 am, Sun Nov 11, 2018.

Scott’s win cements control of Florida for Republicans

By Dara Kam & Jim Saunders, NSF

Eight years after shocking the political establishment by becoming Florida governor, Republican Rick Scott declared victory late Tuesday night in his campaign against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Numbers posted Wednesday morning on the Florida Division of Elections website indicate a recount could be needed. The updated numbers showed Scott with 4,074,001 votes, or 50.21 percent, while Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson had 4,039,498 votes, or 49.79 percent. Under state law, a recount is triggered when the margin is 0.5 percent or less.

Nelson did not make a public statement, but Scott’s win even more firmly cemented control of Florida for Republicans. Nelson for the past eight years has been the only Democrat elected statewide.

Shortly before midnight, Scott, flanked by his family, addressed supporters in Naples.

He acknowledged the combative nature of the race, in which Scott and his supporters repeatedly characterized Nelson, 76, as verging on senility.

Campaigns are “divisive” and “tough,” Scott said.

“And they’re really actually way too nasty,” he said. “But you know what? We’ve done this for over 200 years, and after these campaigns, we come together. There are a lot of other individuals in D.C. that want to do the same thing. And I’m going to work with them and we will change, like we did in Florida, the direction of Washington, D.C.”

The governor vowed to bring to Washington the same business-like approach he used as an outsider when he assumed office eight years ago as governor. Scott, a wealthy businessman who had not previously held political office, was elected governor in 2010 by beating Republican establishment candidate Bill McCollum and Democrat Alex Sink.

“The federal government is frustrating. It’s outdated. It’s wasteful. It’s inefficient,” Scott said. “All of us in state government have dealt with the federal government over the last eight years, and we can tell you story after story after story. Now, I’m just one individual, but there are a lot of other individuals in D.C. that want to do the same thing. And I’m going to work with them and we will change, like we did in Florida, the direction of Washington, D.C.”

Through mid-October, Scott had raised about $69 million for his Senate campaign, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Nelson, who was seeking his fourth term in the Senate, had raised $28 million. Those totals also do not account for tens of millions of dollars dumped into the race by outside groups.

Nelson sailed to wins in his first three U.S. Senate races but faced a far more-formidable opponent in Scott.

Nelson has served in public office for four decades, including as a state legislator, a congressman, a state Cabinet member and U.S. senator. After winning the governor’s office in 2010, Scott was re-elected in 2014 by defeating former Gov. Charlie Crist.

The race took an unexpected twist Oct. 10 when Hurricane Michael slammed into Northwest Florida, causing massive damage. Wearing his signature Navy cap, Scott spent much of the next three weeks in the Panhandle, though he returned to the campaign trail last week.

DeSantis Defeats Gillum to Keep State with GOP Control

By Lloyd Dunkelberger & Dara Kam, NSF 

In another razor-thin election, Florida voters on Tuesday continued a two-decade streak of Republican dominance by electing former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis as governor.

With more than 8 million votes counted, the state Division of Elections showed DeSantis leading Democrat Andrew Gillum by a margin of 49.88 percent to 48.9 percent, or about 78,000 votes.

DeSantis and his wife, Casey, appeared before supporters at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando shortly after 11:15 p.m, after receiving a concession call from Gillum.

“I worked as hard as I could and left everything on the field,” DeSantis told the crowd. “I’m excited for the opportunities for Florida.”

Gillum conceded at 11 p.m. as he spoke to supporters gathered at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

The nationally watched race was widely viewed as a referendum on President Donald Trump, whose endorsement of DeSantis helped boost the former congressman to a primary victory in August.

During his victory speech, DeSantis also acknowledged Trump's role.

“I would like to thank the president for standing by me when it wasn’t necessarily the smart thing to do,” he said.

DeSantis’ win was a crushing blow for Democrats, who had pinned their hopes on Gillum making history as the state’s first black chief-of-state and recapturing the governor’s mansion for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

Many Democrats believed that the 39-year-old Gillum, the father of three young children, injected a degree of enthusiasm lacking for their party’s candidates over the past several elections.

But the Tallahassee mayor was forced to defend himself against accusations of wrongdoing related to an FBI investigation of city government, which became a cornerstone of DeSantis’ campaign.

DeSantis and his supporters accused Gillum of being dishonest and corrupt for accepting a ticket from an undercover FBI agent to the popular Broadway show “Hamilton,” and traveling to Costa Rica and other places with lobbyist Adam Corey. Gillum said he paid cash for his share of a rental house shared with Corey and others in the 2016 Costa Rica vacation.

The trips and the ticket are part of an ethics investigation into Gillum, and Corey is at the heart of a federal probe into Tallahassee city government. Gillum has repeatedly denied he is the subject of the FBI inquiry and has steadfastly maintained he hasn’t done anything wrong.

It was Trump’s support, including a July endorsement rally in Tampa, that helped propel DeSantis past a better-funded and more widely known opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, in the Aug. 28 Republican primary. He beat Putnam by 20 percentage points.

Trump again played a major role in the general election, appearing at rallies with DeSantis in Lee County and Pensacola in the final week of the campaign.

Democrats Pickup Two Congressional Seats Locally

By Jim Turner, NSF

Democrats flipped a pair of South Florida congressional seats Tuesday as Republicans retained their hold on the state’s delegation.

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell edged out two-term Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo for the District 26 seat, which is made up of Southwest Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County.

Unofficial results showed Mucarsel-Powell with 50.7 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, Donna Shalala, a former University of Miami president, captured the District 27 seat long held by Republican Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen was one of three Florida Republicans who decided to retire rather than seek re-election this year.

“I’m proud to know you had my back,” Shalala, who received 51.7 percent of the vote, told voters in a prepared statement. “Now, it’s time to fulfill my end of the bargain.”

Republicans held the three other open congressional seats: state Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, won in Congressional District 15; state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, won in Congressional District 17; and businessman Michael Waltz won in Congressional District 6.

Waltz, a former Army Green Beret, defeated Democrat Nancy Soderberg to take the seat Republican Ron DeSantis gave up as he ran for governor.

District 6 is made up of all or parts of St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia and Lake counties.

Florida’s congressional delegation will now stand at 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

The state previously has been represented by 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Besides Ros-Lehtinen, retirements were announced this year by Republicans Tom Rooney in District 17 and Dennis Ross in District 15. DeSantis left his seat in September to focus on running for governor.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Ros-Lehtinen’s District 27, which was one of the few that Trump failed to win in 2016.

Shalala, who also served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, defeated Maria Elvira Salazar, a long-time journalist and television personality who worked for Telemundo.

Curbelo’s District 26 seat has also seen a shift in recent years toward Democrats and saw Clinton outperform Trump in 2016.

Curbelo was first elected to the U.S. House in 2014.

Caldwell Wins Ag Commissioner

By Jim Turner, NSF

Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell declared victory Tuesday night as he held a narrow advantage in the contest to succeed term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Caldwell, a real-estate appraiser from North Fort Myers, gave an acceptance speech from an election watch party, according to WGCU Public Media.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Caldwell led Democrat Nikki Fried by about 12,000 votes out of 8 million ballots cast.

The campaign seemed to focus more on issues such as medical marijuana and guns than the agriculture aspects of the commissioner’s job, which includes serving on the state Cabinet and running the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

With about $7.5 million spent by the candidates, the contest had the lowest spending among the three Cabinet races. But unlike the races for attorney general and chief financial officer, Caldwell and Fried discussed issues and participated in a debate that voters across the state could see.

Caldwell, 37, a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, was first elected to the House in 2010 and traces his family back seven generations in Florida. In the House, Caldwell has been a go-to lawmaker on a number of environmental issues for GOP leaders.

If his lead in Tuesday’s election holds, he will take over the sprawling Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which assists farmers and ranchers, manages public lands, maintains the state’s “do-not-call” list, inspects amusement park rides, ensures food safety and oversees concealed-weapons licenses.

A couple of key agriculture issues before the agency are citrus greening and the decline of the citrus industry, while also overseeing fruit imports at ports.

Caldwell sought to appeal to conservative voters with a pro-gun and anti-tax record in the Legislature while stressing his family’s roots in Florida and ties to the agriculture industry. He considers “jobs and water” the priorities of the office.

With the state experiencing problems with toxic algae and red tide, Fried contended water legislation by Caldwell “gutted” Department of Environmental Protection regulations and played a key role in degrading the state’s environment.

Caldwell countered that his measures require farmers to implement “the most cutting-edge technology” related to the use of phosphates and didn’t roll back any water quality standards.

Fried, drew attention tby announcing that two national banks --- Wells Fargo and BB&T, terminated her campaign account because of contributions tied to the marijuana industry.

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