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Results In Key Florida Senate Race Are Still On Hold


A day after the election, uncertainty reigns in Florida. The Senate race there is still too close to call. Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson's campaign is preparing for a recount in a razor-thin contest with Republican Rick Scott, the current governor. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Pensacola, Fla., with the latest. Hey, Debbie.


CHANG: So let's start with Rick Scott. You know, he came out to claim victory last night after leading much of the evening. But then overnight, the race really tightened. What happened?

ELLIOTT: Yes. It was - by Wednesday morning, we had these returns showing Scott leading Nelson by about 34,000 votes. And that's important because it's within the half percentage margin that can launch an automatic recount in Florida. So we're in recount territory. Nelson isn't conceding. His campaign estimates that there are more than a hundred thousand ballots left to be counted. And that's out of over 8.1 million cast. I talked to Pensacola pollster and Republican consultant Scott Miller. And he told me, you know, the odds are against Nelson, but there's no reason for him to forego the recount.

SCOTT MILLER: And I'm not surprised. I mean, you know, it's kind of a free gimme. You never know what's going to happen. You know, there's a lot of chaos on election night.

CHANG: OK, chaos - but then what happens now? What are you hearing from the Scott campaign?

ELLIOTT: Well, first, Florida's secretary of state has to certify the results from each of the state's 67 counties. And those are not due until Saturday. Then if the difference between the two candidates remains within that half-percent threshold, an electronic recount is in order. Now, Rick Scott's campaign says the race is over, and President Trump certainly thinks so. Here's what he said at his news conference today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Rick Scott won. And I helped him. And I think we've done an amazing job.

CHANG: OK. To be fair, President Trump did make several appearances in Florida ahead of the midterms. And the Republican candidate he endorsed for governor early on, Ron DeSantis, beat Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee. What have voters there been telling you about what drove them to the polls yesterday? Was it Trump?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, many people said Trump on both sides of the political divide. I talked to Jamie Thorn. She's a registered Republican in Gulf Breeze, Fla. She says her vote was all about supporting the president.

JAMIE THORN: Whether or not I always like Trump's style, I like what he's doing for our country and for conservatives.

ELLIOTT: Then for a number of Democratic voters I spoke with, they talked about their motivation being to resist President Trump. Catherine Green was voting at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Pensacola. She works at a school cafeteria and says she just can't abide the president's behavior.

CATHERINE GREEN: If we're going to represent this country, we cannot call each other names. We cannot do all this. The rest of the world is looking at us. What they see - us acting like little kids.

CHANG: OK. Finally, in the short time we have left, tell us about the ballot initiative that could expand Florida's electorate in the future.

ELLIOTT: Right, voters approved a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons who've served their time or are put on probation - exceptions for those convicted of sexual offenses and murder. This is potentially upwards of 1 1/2 million people. The change was approved by more than 60 percent of voters. Now, that was a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in this otherwise very hotly divided state.

CHANG: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott from Pensacola, Fla. Thanks, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.