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Democrat Bill Nelson concedes to Rick Scott in Florida race for Senate

In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 photo workers at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office show Republican and Democrat observers ballots during a hand recount in Lauderhill, Fla. Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is leading incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson in the state’s contentious Senate race. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 photo workers at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office show Republican and Democrat observers ballots during a hand recount in Lauderhill, Fla. Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is leading incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson in the state’s contentious Senate race. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
By Amy B Wang and Felicia Sonmez Washington Post

Three-term Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, D, has conceded to Gov. Rick Scott, R, in a bitter and drawn-out race to retain his seat after a series of failed legal challenges and underwhelming preliminary results from a manual statewide recount left the incumbent with almost no path to victory.

Nelson conceded in a phone call to Scott, according to a statement from the Scott campaign, even though results of the race are not due to be certified until Tuesday. Nelson is due to make a statement at 3 p.m.

“I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service,” Scott said in a statement. “This victory would not be possible without the hard work of so many people. Now the campaign truly is behind us, and that’s where we need to leave it. We must do what Americans have always done: come together for the good of our state and our country.”

The governor ended his statement by saying, “Let’s get to work.”

Going into the recount, Nelson trailed Scott by more than 12,000 votes, and his campaign had hoped a re-examination of ballots – particularly in heavily Democratic Broward County – would help him close the gap.

But the recount ended midday Sunday with Scott leading Nelson by 10,033 votes after the machine and manual recounts had been completed, according to the Florida Division of Elections, leaving Nelson without a path to victory.

The outcome of the recount means Florida, the nation’s third-most-populous state, will be represented by two GOP senators. Scott’s victory will also boost Republicans’ Senate majority to 52 seats in the new Congress to Democrats’ 47 seats. One race, in Mississippi, will be decided in a runoff on Nov. 27.

This weekend, Scott’s campaign sent out an optimistic email citing preliminary numbers in the Broward recount.

“While almost one-third of undervotes in the state were in Broward County (31,000) there were only 500 new ballots counted, netting Bill Nelson less than 300 votes,” the Scott campaign stated. “The numbers are in and the votes have been counted. Rick Scott was elected to the U.S. Senate by a close but decisive margin. It’s time for Bill Nelson to finally accept reality and allow the state of Florida to move forward.”

The Senate race was one of the most closely watched in the country, and scrutiny further intensified in the wake of Election Day as Scott’s lead narrowed and it became clear the race was headed toward a recount.

The recount attracted legal challenges and allegations of voter fraud – and once again put Florida in the national spotlight, harking back to a similarly drawn-out process that took place there after the 2000 presidential election.

Together, the Nelson and Scott campaigns racked up at least 10 lawsuits trying to gain legal advantage in the recount. Protesters descended on county election offices, where officials scrambled to tally ballots in scenes reminiscent of the 2000 recount battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Republicans also sought to cast doubt on the validity of the results, with President Donald Trump making unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud and arguing the recount should halt, even though it was mandated by state law. A machine recount that preceded the hand recount did settle Florida’s closely watched gubernatorial race, with Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum conceding to Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., on Saturday afternoon.

The hard-fought Senate race played out in a state where shifting demographics are transforming the political landscape. Republicans retain an advantage among Florida’s older white retirees, but the state’s younger, nonwhite population is surging, with many of those Democratic-leaning people now reaching voting age.

“People are not happy that the blue wave hit the rest of the country and missed Florida,” Jacob Sanders, a Democratic consultant in St. Lucie County, told The Post in anticipation of a Nelson defeat. “People are looking around and saying, ‘What happened?’ The recount was a really good way to make people stop asking. There’s going to be a reckoning now.”

On Friday, officials in Miami-Dade County concluded Nelson gained only 181 votes in the manual recount – and in heavily Democratic Broward, just to the north, preliminary results did not bode well for him, either.

Broward officials reported Friday that they had recorded more than 30,000 “undervote” ballots, in which no candidate appeared to be selected. Going into the manual recount, Nelson’s campaign had hoped that large numbers of ballots with no recorded vote in the Senate race would be revealed as votes for the Democrat once they were examined by hand. But that did not occur.

As Nelson’s campaign was receiving the results in Broward and Miami-Dade, it was also absorbing losses in three lawsuits filed by Democrats and voting rights advocates that could have benefited his campaign. Democrats lost what may have been Nelson’s final legal recourse Friday with a federal judge’s decision denying a request to accept some mail-in ballots received after Election Day.

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