Senator Bill Nelson concedes Florida Senate race to Gov. Rick Scott

Published: Nov. 18, 2018 at 2:37 PM EST
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Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on Sunday conceded the Florida Senate race to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, ending his re-election bid after the completion of a statewide recount.

Scott announced the concession in a statement, saying, "I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service."

Nelson will make a statement at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, his campaign announced.

The concession brings to conclusion a key Senate race that continued to be fought well after Election Day.

The Senate race -- along with the governor's and state's race for agriculture commissioner -- went to a machine recount a week ago, but the recount did not do nearly enough for Nelson and further formalized Scott's more than 12,000-vote lead. The contest still fell within the .25% standard for a manual recount of overvotes and undervotes, however.

Nelson conceded after the noon deadline for the manual recount, when all of Florida's 67 counties were required to submit their final vote totals to the secretary of state, meaning every vote deemed admissible by county canvassing boards and the courts had been officially counted.

The results of the recount showed Scott with a vote lead of 10,033 over incumbent Nelson. Before the completion of the manual recount, Scott had a lead of 12,603 votes.

Nelson's concession comes a day after Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum ended his campaign for governor by acknowledging that Republican Ron DeSantis had defeated him. The concession was a blow to Nelson, given the two top Democrats had figuratively stood together in calling for every legal vote cast in Florida to be counted. Gillum's bowing out was an acknowledgment that many Democrats in the state believe the fight is over.

Nelson's loss ends his nearly two-decade tenure in the Senate, where he most recently served as the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee and previously served as the chair of the Senate Aging Committee.

Nelson has been a fixture in Florida politics for more than four decades, serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives for six years in the 1970s before vaulting to the US House of Representatives in 1979, where he served for 12 years.

Nelson faced an onslaught of spending in a race that likely topped $100 million just for ads on TV, according to data from CMAG.

And he was a top target for President Donald Trump, who considers Florida one of his home states because of Mar-a-Lago, the private club he has owned since 1985. Trump made a pair of last-minute trips to Florida to help Scott, rallying with the Republican governor and DeSantis in Fort Myers and then Pensacola during the final week of the campaign.

Scott, who is independently wealthy, raised an eye-popping $68 million this cycle, burying Nelson's $27 million.

But the Democratic outside money came in for Nelson after the primary, with Senate Majority PAC investing nearly $17 million, Priorities USA backing him with just over $8 million and Majority Forward spending another $5 million on Nelson's behalf.

Guns and the environment took an outsized role in this race. Both Scott and Nelson pointed fingers at each other over toxic algae blooms impacting the state's waterways, hoping to woo a group of single-issue environmental voters in the state. And guns have played a large role in the state after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead.

But some of Nelson's most potent ads came in linking Scott to the President, attacks that put the governor on the defensive.

One Spanish-language ad for Nelson shows Scott shaking Trump's hand. Rick Scott and Donald Trump are "muy buenos amigos," the ad says -- very good friends.

The attacks seemingly worked, because Scott had to respond by distancing himself from the President.

"When I don't agree with what President Trump does or says, I've said it," Scott said in an ad. "My only commitment is with you."