What to Know
- Nelson had been viewed as one of the nation's most vulnerable Democrats thanks to the formidable challenge from Scott
- While the two men differ on a range of issues from gun control to health care, the election has been more about character and competence
After a close race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott claimed victory over three-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in their U.S. Senate race Tuesday, but a statewide recount expected to take place could put the final result on hold.
NBC News has not yet projected a winner in the race, as the election remained too close to call.
Florida has a mandatory recount rule if the candidates are within 0.5 percentage points of one another. State officials will not officially order a recount until Saturday, when the first set of unofficial returns are due.
"We are proceeding to a recount," Nelson said in a brief statement Wednesday morning.
After Scott delivered a speech late Tuesday night in which he claimed victory, Nelson staffers indicated Nelson was expected to concede the race and would speak Wednesday. However, Nelson's Chief of Staff told NBC News to not expect a speech at this time after the campaign noticed the percentage difference.
Scott told supporters gathered in Naples that the election against Nelson had been "divisive and tough" but he vowed to change the direction of Washington, D.C.
Nelson had been viewed as one of the nation's most vulnerable Democrats thanks to the formidable challenge from Scott, a multimillionaire businessman who poured more than $60 million of his own fortune into the contest.
A Scott campaign spokesperson called the race "over" in a statement Wednesday morning.
"It's a sad way for Bill Nelson to end his career," Chris Hartline told NBC News. "He is desperately trying to hold on to something that no longer exists."
While the two men differ on a range of issues ranging from gun control to health care, the election was more about character and competence and the candidates' respective relationships with President Donald Trump.
Scott has urged voters to "retire" the 76-year-old Nelson, calling him ineffective and faulting him on everything from the level of federal support for the space program to the slow wait to get federal money to help repair the Lake Okeechobee dike.
"I work and he doesn't," said Scott. "He doesn't do anything. I don't know what he has done in 42 years of office."
That message has resonated with voters such as Ed Evangelista, who attended a Trump political rally last week in southwest Florida. He recently moved to the state after living in Connecticut for most of his 70 years.
In his home state, he said he voted for Democrats and Republicans. Now that he lives in Venice, Florida, he's casting his first ballot in the state for Scott.
"He's been in way too long," Evangelista said of Nelson. "I don't care if he's a good guy or not."
Nelson has responded by branding Scott as a Trump follower who has used the governor's office to pad his wealth and has ignored problems festering in the state. He has insisted Scott's actions to cut the budgets of water-management districts and limit enforcement actions at the state's environmental agency have contributed to the toxic algae and red tide that have plagued the coast this year. Nelson has also criticized Scott for opposing President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul.
"The campaign is about trust and integrity," Nelson said during a campaign swing through Tallahassee with Vice President Joe Biden. "I think the choice is pretty clear. You just can't trust Rick Scott. He'll either change his position or he goes completely against the public interest."
In their only debate hosted by Telemundo 51 last month, Scott sought to portray Nelson as a partisan politician. "All he does is attack Republicans and defend Democrats," Scott said.
"You know governor, you just can't tell the truth. Everything that you have said here, and that's why newspapers in this state are on to you, that's why they say you're a walking conflict of interest," Nelson responded.
When Scott first decided to run, the contest between him and Nelson was seen as one of the marquee races in the nation, involving two heavyweights.
But that battle has been overshadowed by the governor's race, a vitriolic contest between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum that's been seen as a proxy battle between Trump and Democrats. Scott also spent nearly two weeks off the campaign trail to respond to Hurricane Michael, which pummeled several counties in the Florida Panhandle and was responsible for dozens of deaths.
Scott, a one-time health care executive, jumped into politics eight years ago and rode a tea party wave into the governor's office. He promised to enact stiff new policies to deal with immigration and was a loud critic of Obama. While in office, Scott backed away from his hard line on immigration and even came out in support of Medicaid expansion, although he changed that position once he was re-elected.
The 65-year-old governor planned to make the election a referendum on Nelson's tenure, but found himself playing defense over his own record and became the target of vocal protests at some of his campaign stops.
The governor also began widely airing a television ad promising to retain the Affordable Care Act's consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions, even though Florida is one of the states involved in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the federal law. The governor has maintained he had nothing to do with the lawsuit, but he has not called for the state to withdraw from it.
Nelson and his allies ran ads questioning 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.
Nelson, whose long political career included a stint as the state's insurance commissioner, has been put on the defensive this election season, as well, particularly over several public comments and statements.
Over the summer he triggered a firestorm when he said the Russians were meddling in Florida's election system after an unsuccessful attempt in 2016. While top GOP senators would neither confirm nor deny Nelson's statement, federal authorities told Florida election officials they saw no signs of any "new or ongoing compromises" of state or local election systems.
More recently, Nelson warned that the ongoing political strife in the nation could lead to the genocide that happened in the African nation of Rwanda, where nearly a million people were killed in the early '90s.