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Florida's Senate Race Still Too Close To Call


What's a historic election without a recount in Florida? The state's Senate race is very close. Republican Governor Rick Scott is leading the incumbent, Senator Bill Nelson. Scott has even claimed victory, but the Democrat's camp says wait a minute. NPR's Debbie Elliott is covering this story from the Florida Panhandle. Hi, Debbie.


INSKEEP: What is Bill Nelson's side saying exactly?

ELLIOTT: Well, they're saying, we're proceeding to a recount. Now, this race is too close to call. It's within the margin in Florida that can trigger an automatic recount. That's less than a half percent. The latest numbers have Rick Scott up by about 34,000 votes cast. That's out of 8.1 million. Now, don't get visions of hanging chads in this scenario that you and I witnessed playing out in the 2000 presidential race here in Florida. This time, state law will call for an electronic retally. That will go on at all of the 67 county supervisors of elections. It has to be ordered by the secretary of state. That hasn't happened yet. That could happen at any point. Meantime, the Nelson campaign is sort of saying, we're going to be watching you, you know? Like, we want to - we have lawyers out; we're going to go to all those counties; we're going to watch for any irregularities just to make sure that there's no shenanigans here.

INSKEEP: I guess we should keep this in perspective. In the year 2000, it finally came down to a difference, according to the Supreme Court ruling, of 537 votes between George W. Bush and Al Gore for the presidential vote in Florida in 2000. In this case, as you said, there are 34,000 votes at the moment separating the candidates. Granted, there may be...


INSKEEP: ...Absentee ballots and other things, but that's a pretty big...


INSKEEP: ...Margin to overturn in a recount.

ELLIOTT: It is, but, you know, I think the Democrats are going to hold on to every chance they get in Florida because last night was not great for them.

INSKEEP: So Debbie, you're there in Florida. You're talking with people. You've covered Florida for years. I just want to note for people, this is a swing state that has gone narrowly but decisively, importantly, for Republicans a number of times in recent years - 2016 for President Trump, and year 2018 in the Senate at the moment, as far as we know, barring the recount changing things and also the governor's race.

ELLIOTT: Right. And, you know, the Republicans have held the Legislature and the governorship here for 20 years. And should Bill Nelson lose his Senate seat - he's the lone statewide elected officeholder who is a Democrat. If he were to lose, it would be the first time in, like, more than a hundred years that two Republicans would represent Florida in the U.S. Senate - so a lot of change. You know, you could say that Republicans here are really solidifying their hold on the state, which is not something that a lot of political observers expected.

INSKEEP: What does that say about the direction of the South, the direction of American politics? The Democrats would run the campaigns that they have, and they may well have lost the big - the marquee races.

ELLIOTT: Well, I think this year, it says that Donald Trump has a lot of support in this part of the country. I think that it was very much a win for the president that Ron DeSantis won the governorship here. He came out early endorsing him when there were better funded and more well-known Republicans who wanted that job. And he very much ran a campaign sort of echoing the kinds of themes that we've been hearing from Donald Trump. And I talked to voters here, and they said that's what this is about.

INSKEEP: Debbie, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: Likewise, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott. And while we're on the subject of Florida, let's note that they also passed a ballot initiative which will restore the ballot to convicted felons. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.