TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - After a bruising and bitter U.S. Senate campaign that saw both sides unleash a torrent of negative TV ads, Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday to choose whether to keep three-term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson or replace him with Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
The two candidates have been heavyweights within each party: Nelson has withstood years of GOP dominance to remain the only statewide Democrat, while Scott is a two-term governor who was urged by President Donald Trump to take on Nelson.
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.”
A loss by Nelson likely means an end his political career and while the GOP had already claimed victory in retaining control of the U.S. Senate earlier in the evening, a Scott victory would mean a wider margin for the GOP and a validation of President Trump's policies. At the
The two men differed on a number of issues, ranging from gun control to health care. In the end, the election was more about character and competence and the candidates' respective relationships with Trump and their respective political bases.
When Scott first decided to run, the contest between him and Nelson was seen as one of the marquee races in the nation. But that battle had been overshadowed by the governor's race, a vitriolic contest between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum that's been seen as a proxy battle between Trump and Democrats. DeSantis eventually pulled off a win with a similar margin of victory that Scott was holding over Nelson late Tuesday.
The 65-year-old governor planned to make the election a referendum on Nelson's tenure, but found himself playing defense over his own record and became the target of vocal protests at some of his campaign stops.
The governor also began widely airing a television ad promising to retain the Affordable Care Act's consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions, even though Florida is one of the states involved in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the federal law. The governor has maintained he had nothing to do with the lawsuit, but he has not called for the state to withdraw from it.
Nelson and his allies ran ads questioning Scott's ethics, pointing to his ouster as chief executive of health care giant Columbia/HCA amid a federal fraud investigation. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing, the health care conglomerate paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
Nelson sailed to wins in his first three U.S. Senate races but faced a far more-formidable opponent in Scott. He 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.