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Republican Rick Scott Defeats Bill Nelson For Florida Senate Seat

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

The midterms were 12 days ago, but it wasn't until today that a winner was called in the Senate race in Florida after a hand recount of disputed ballots. This afternoon, incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson conceded defeat to his GOP challenger Rick Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL NELSON: Things worked out a little differently than Grace and I had hoped, but let me say I by no measure feel defeated. And that's because I've had the privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.

SINGH: So Nelson's Senate career ends after three terms. Also this weekend, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded the gubernatorial contest to Republican Ron DeSantis. The results are expected to be certified on Tuesday.

NPR's Don Gonyea is in Broward County, the epicenter of Florida's vote counting muddle, and he joins us now.

Hello, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, there.

SINGH: So what did we learn from the recount? Did the totals change significantly from the original numbers that were reported after Election Day?

GONYEA: They did not. The Senate race narrowed by a couple of thousand votes but not enough to really even make it dramatic. In that contest, Rick Scott, who's Florida's sitting governor - he maintained a lead of more than 10,000 votes right on through the recount. Now, 10,000 sounds like a big number, right, but that's, like, two tenths of 1 percent. There were so many votes cast.

In the governor's race, the lead was larger - more than 30,000. And that really didn't change. They didn't even do the second manual recount. We have seen legal challenges filed by Democrats in the past week, some still pending. But now that both Nelson and Gillum have conceded, that would appear to bring that to a halt as well.

SINGH: Well, Don, you were there in Florida back in 2000 when it was George Bush versus Al Gore. Does this feel like a bit of deja vu?

GONYEA: (Laughter) You know, it does. It's not as high-stakes as 2000. That one obviously determined who was going to be president. This one was not as close. That one was a matter of hundreds of votes. And, ultimately, the Supreme Court got involved in that one. But this one was pretty amped up in other ways, including President Trump, who was tweeting and declaring voter fraud - without offering evidence, I might add.

But here's what was similar to 2000 - rooms of regular citizens just trying to sort out what voters in their county intended when they cast ballots. Back then, it was those hanging chads, and I watched them holding them up to the light to try to figure out what the vote was. No chads this time but still ballots that had to be looked at one by one. It's slow. It's tedious. And, when you're in the middle of it, I can tell you you wonder if it will ever end.

SINGH: What are the lessons of this year's races in Florida for Democrats in 2020? The state is sure to continue to be a battleground.

GONYEA: Absolutely. I mean, Florida is the biggest of the battleground states. An attorney here who is working for the Democrats said, if you look at Florida - and let's add in Georgia, which, you know, had their results finally kind of worked out just in the past few days - he said, if you look at those two states, you have an example of all of the big problems you see in American elections today. Things need to be fixed - who can vote, people getting turned away from the polls, signatures not matching on mail-in ballots. All of those things have to be addressed. Are they going to be addressed immediately, or are we going to find ourselves in this exact same place two years from now?

SINGH: NPR's Don Gonyea in Broward, Fla.

Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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