TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida faced the prospect of recounts in the razor-thin races for governor and U.S. Senate, potentially prolonging the battle over two of this year's most-closely watched campaigns.
In the governor's race, Democrat Andrew Gillum's campaign said Thursday it's prepared for a possible recount. He conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis on Tuesday night, though the margin of the race has since tightened. As of Thursday afternoon, DeSantis held a lead of 0.47 percentage point over Gillum.
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson has already started preparing for a potential recount in a race that remains too close to call against Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Nelson's lawyer called that race a "jump ball" - though Scott's campaign urged Nelson to concede. Scott held a 0.21 percentage lead over Nelson Thursday afternoon.
The tight races underscored Florida's status as a perennial swing state where elections are often decided by the thinnest of margins. Since 2000, when Florida decided the presidency by 537 votes in a contest that took more than five weeks to sort out, the state has seen many close elections, but never so many dead heats in one year.
Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, said she didn't know of any other recount in a governor or Senate race in Florida history. She was researching the subject Thursday.
Under Florida law, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate's margin is less than 0.5 percentage points when the first unofficial count is verified Saturday by Florida's secretary of state.
The Associated Press has called the governor's race for DeSantis. If Saturday's count shows DeSantis with a margin narrow enough to trigger a recount, AP will retract its call for DeSantis. It is AP policy not to call a race that is facing a recount.
The AP has not called a winner in the Senate race.
In yet a third statewide seat - the Cabinet position of agriculture commissioner - the candidates were separated by only 483 votes out of more than 8 million cast or a margin of 0.006 percent.
Gillum's campaign said it's monitoring the situation with an elections lawyer and preparing for a possible state-mandated recount. He hired attorney Barry Richard, who represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount.
"On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported," the campaign said. "We are committed to ensuring every single vote in Florida is counted."
At an event in Hialeah Gardens, DeSantis declined to discuss prospects for a recount, telling reporters he was "very proud to be elected on Tuesday night."
"It's a great honor," he said. "We're working really hard on the transition. We'll let the lawyers do what they got to do. But, we're good and look forward to serving."
Florida was mocked for the way it handled the infamous 2000 recount, especially since there was no uniform process on how to proceed. That has changed, with the Legislature passing a clear procedure on how a recount should be conducted.
"This is not like it was in 2000. There's not a lot of room for strategy," said Richard. "At this point we just have people who are observing the process, which is really all we can do."
Elections officials in Broward County, where Democrats have a large advantage, were still reviewing ballots Thursday.
Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes said she didn't know how many ballots remain to be counted, but all were being processed. She also did not know how many provisional, military and mismarked ballots need to be counted. Her department's website said ballots cast on Election Day have been counted.
Marc Elias, a lawyer hired by Nelson, said he expects the margin to continue to narrow.
"The results of the 2018 Senate election are unknown and I think that you and the elections officials should treat it as such," Elias told reporters on a conference call. "We believe that at the end of this process that Senator Nelson is going to be declared the winner and is going to return to the United States Senate."
He said provisional and mail-in ballots were initially rejected because officials didn't believe signatures matched those on file, historically tend to break for Democrats.
Scott's campaign has said Nelson should concede the race rather than push for a recount.
"Let's be clear: When Elias says 'win,' he means 'steal.'" The campaign said in a released statement. "It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken."
While the Senate and governor races were the focus of the country's attention, a Florida Cabinet seat also will likely have a statewide recount.
In the agriculture commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried had a 483-vote lead over Republican state Rep. Rep. Matt Caldwell, or a difference of 0.006 percentage points - well within range of a hand recount.
Florida counties have until noon Saturday to turn in unofficial election results to the Department of State. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Scott, will review the results and decide whether to order recounts.
AP writer Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale and Ellis Rua in Hialeah Gardens contributed to this report.
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