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Scott fends off Crist in testy Florida governor’s race

Gov. Rick Scott spoke to supporters after his election win.
Gov. Rick Scott spoke to supporters after his election win.(Associated Press)

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Republican Rick Scott was elected to a second term as Florida governor Tuesday by the slimmest of margins after a heated and expensive campaign against his predecessor, Charlie Crist.

His victory was a testament, in large part, to an aggressive campaign that highlighted Florida’s economic turnaround during his tenure while also pummeling Crist with negative advertisements.

His win came with the Florida Republican establishment’s full support, something he did not enjoy in 2010 when he defeated Bill McCollum, the party favorite, in the primary.

Still, Scott failed to capture a majority of votes, which may complicate his efforts to lead a politically mixed state in his second term.

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Crist was unable to overcome months of attack ads, which referred to him as a “flip-flopper” for switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

Scott took the stage at a hotel here just before 11:30 p.m. and announced that Crist had called him to concede.

Citing the creation of 651,000 jobs as a key to his win, Scott told supporters that it was time to put partisan politics in the past.

“Florida is on a mission, ” he told supporters, “and that mission is to keep growing and to become the very best place in the world to get a job, raise a family and live the American dream.”

Will Weatherford, a Republican and Florida’s house speaker, said the strong showing among Republicans statewide represented “a validation” of the governor’s policies.

“This is a historic night; Florida is a purple state,” Weatherford said at Scott’s campaign party here. “It’s not easy to run statewide as a Republican.”

The contest between Scott, 61, and Crist, 58, was the most expensive in Florida’s history and among the costliest gubernatorial races in the country. Beyond the battle for control of the nation’s fourth most populous state, at stake was who will head one of the most important swing states in the 2016 presidential election. The race was fueled by more than $100 million in negative political advertisements and moments of vivid animosity between the two men.

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The contest was close enough that Scott, a multimillionaire former health care executive, was forced to dip into his personal funds to turbocharge his campaign, recently plunging $12.8 million into the race. In 2010, Scott spent $70 million of his own money, which was crucial to his victory over Alex Sink.

Neither candidate was particularly well liked by the state’s disillusioned voters. To generate excitement, each drew marquee national names to the campaign. In recent days, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Florida to campaign for Crist, while Scott drew former Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

A third candidate, Adrian Wyllie, a Libertarian, was also on the ballot.

Scott was a political neophyte when he rode the 2010 Tea Party wave to a narrow victory, casting himself as a tough conservative who could create jobs and turn around Florida’s battered economy. In the past two years, facing sharply negative approval ratings, he moderated some of his conservative stances, advocating for increases in education and moving more to the center on environmental issues and health care.

Crist was Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011, largely as a relatively popular moderate Republican. But he cast the party aside in 2010 during his unsuccessful run as an independent for the Senate against Marco Rubio. In 2012, Crist became a Democrat, saying the Republican Party had traveled too far to the right.

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