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Republican Rick Scott Wins Florida Senate Seat Over Incumbent Bill Nelson

Even before the recounts were done, Gov. Rick Scott attended freshman orientation this past week at the Capitol. Scott is seen here at a rally in Orlando on Nov. 2.
Jeff J. Mitchell
Getty Images
Even before the recounts were done, Gov. Rick Scott attended freshman orientation this past week at the Capitol. Scott is seen here at a rally in Orlando on Nov. 2.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has defeated Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in the Florida Senate race after a protracted and contentious recount.

Following both a machine and hand recount — mandated by law given the very tight margin of less than 0.25 percentage points — Scott continued to lead Nelson by more than 10,000 votes out of more than eight million votes cast.

"I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service," said Scott in a statement issued by his campaign.

"We may have been outspent in this campaign, but we were never outworked" said Nelson in an address to supporters.

Top Democratic lawyers had flooded into the state after Election Day given the razor-thin margin, and Nelson's campaign sued to extend the deadline statewide and to ask for a recount in Palm Beach County of all ballots, not just undervotes and overvotes. But ultimately, even the hand recount didn't shift the final margin of the race too much.

Scott's victory represents the fourth Senate seat that Republicans flipped — in addition to North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri — though they have now netted two seats total given other losses in Arizona and Nevada. The only outstanding contest is in Mississippi, where the special election is headed to a runoff later this month.

Scott was a top GOP recruit in his race against Nelson, who hadn't faced a particularly strong challenger since he was first elected in 2000. But Scott, a wealthy former health care executive, put nearly $40 million of his money into the contest, which was the most expensive Senate race in the country.

Democrats argued that Scott had won the governorship twice in good years for the GOP, but some admit that Nelson was caught off guard, at least at first. But Scott proved to be a formidable campaigner, made crucial inroads with the state's sizable Hispanic community and won plaudits for his response to hurricanes in the past few years.

Republicans maintained that Scott would hold onto his lead despite the legal challenges from Nelson's campaign, and the Florida governor attended freshman orientation this past week at the Capitol.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.