ORLANDO, Fla. – With the statewide hand recount completed, Sen. Bill Nelson conceded Sunday in his race for U.S. Senate against Gov. Rick Scott.
In a video message, Nelson urged his supporters to continue to fight for important issues such as healthcare, climate change and Social Security. Nelson, a moderate Democrat, also decried the increase political polarization in Washington in recent years.
"I will continue to fight hard for what’s right, and I will also encourage others to seek common ground with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle," Nelson said. “Inevitably, at times, that effort will fall short. But we have to try. We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy; where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and the free press is assaulted as the ‘enemy of the people.’"
The recount narrowed Nelson's margin by about 2,000 votes, but it wasn't enough to close the 10,000-vote gap with Scott, the popular two-term Republican governor.
"I just spoke with Sen. Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service," Scott said in a statement. "That victory would not be possible without the hard work of so many people. Now the campaign is truly behind us, and that's where we need to leave it."
Nelson was first elected in 2001, but he has never seen as tough a competitor as Scott, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own fortune into the race. In his previous three Senate races, Nelson breezed to victory.
The Nelson campaign had pinned its hopes on a discrepancy between the number of votes cast in the governor's race and the Senate race in Broward County. More than 20,000 fewer people voted in the Senate race in that county -- a Democratic stronghold.
The campaign theorized that a machine error was behind the discrepancy, but the recount did not bear that out and it appeared the ballot design may have played a role.
The undervotes were mostly restricted to the Broward portions of Florida's 24th Congressional District. On those ballots, Nelson's race appeared in the bottom left corner of the page and no congressional race was listed in that district because U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson ran unopposed.
Scott, a one-time health care executive and multimillionaire, first jumped into politics eight years ago, when he rode a tea party wave into the governor's office. Term limits prevented him from seeking re-election. As the state's chief executive, Scott focused on job creation and turning around Florida's economy after the recession.
Nelson and Scott disagreed on issues ranging from gun control to environmental policy to health care. Nelson was a strong supporter of the federal health care overhaul pushed into law by President Barack Obama, while Scott had called for the law to be repealed and replaced.
Nelson and his allies ran ads that questioned 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.
Democrats also questioned whether Scott had conflicts while governor since both he and his wife invested in companies that do business in Florida, including a subsidiary of the company that owns Florida's largest electric utility. Scott has maintained he does not control his holdings.