MIAMI – Republican Gov. Rick Scott declared victory late Tuesday in a hard-fought race for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, even though one of the most closely watched and expensive races in the country was too close to call.
"Now that this campaign is behind us, that's where we're going to leave it," Scott told supporters gathered in Naples, drawing laughter from the crowd. "At least the campaigns I've been involved in, (they) are divisive and they're tough and they're really actually way too nasty. But. you know what, we've done this for over 200 years, and after these campaigns, we come together and that's what we're going to do. Americans come together."
Nelson did not publicly concede the race. Shortly after midnight, his chief of staff took the stage with about a dozen supporters still left and declared Scott the winner based on numerous news media reports.
"Based on numerous media reports, the Senate race has been called for Rick Scott," senior campaign adviser Pete Mitchell said. "This is obviously not the result Sen. Nelson's campaign has worked hard for."
He said Nelson would make a statement later Wednesday and declined to take any questions.
Republicans managed to recruit a top-tier challenger in Scott, the popular two-term governor of Florida, who bolstered his campaign using his personal fortune, paying for millions of dollars' worth of ads that flooded Florida's airwaves.
Scott's attempts to portray Nelson, 76, as old, confused and out-of-touch with the concerns of Floridians may have sealed his apparent victory. Scott and his allies labeled Nelson as an "empty suit" who was beholden to his party.
Scott also campaigned heavily on his record as governor, pointing to the massive job growth that the state experience during his terms. He also promoted his leadership and state's swift response after natural disasters such hurricanes Irma and Michael.
In a midterm election that has been seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump, Scott successfully distanced himself the president, who is relatively unpopular in Florida. Despite being one of Trump's earliest supporters in the 2016 campaign, Scott drew contrasts with the often-polarizing president while avoiding his wrath on Twitter.
Several times during the campaign, Scott broke with the president after Trump made controversial comments such as when he questioned the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Still, Scott thanked Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, former President George W. Bush and former Gov. Jeb Bush.