ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Once again, Charlie Crist came up short.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida managed to hold onto his seat in Tuesday’s nail-biter race, narrowly beating former Gov. Charlie Crist, a GOP-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat who was trying to resuscitate a political career once left for dead, NBC News projects.Scott secured 48.3% of the vote on Tuesday, compared to Crist who raked in 47% of the vote with 97% of precincts reporting, according to NBC News. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie pulled 4%.
Crist delivered a concession speech around 11:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg in which his supporters called for a recount. The Democrat, however, called on Floridians to come together. "It has never been about right versus left. It has been about right versus wrong." Crist added that he called Scott to offer his congratulations and that the two found "common ground" on expanding Medicaid in the state.
The key to victory on Tuesday boiled down to which candidate turned out the most votes -- a factor likely driven by which of these unpopular politicians is disliked the least.
Citing the ugly— and at times very personal attacks of this particular competition — Sunshine State voters on Tuesday expressed skepticism about both Scott and Crist. Both candidates have suffered from low favorability ratings – below 50% – throughout the election cycle. Neither, it seems, is a candidate Floridians can believe in.
“I’m voting for Scott because the other guy would sell his mama,” said Jimmy Strickland, a 72-year-old St. Petersburg resident, referring to Crist, who has switched party affiliations twice. Scott has tried to paint Crist as a political opportunist, and a flip-flopper – pointing to his time as a Republican governor, then as an independent during his failed Senate bid in 2010, and now his decision to run as a Democrat to try to win back the governorship.
Strickland, who has voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the past, said he’s wary of Crist’s true intentions. “Crist will do anything to get elected.”
Mike Pinto, a 64-year-old Army veteran from Madeira Beach, agreed. “I voted for Scott even though I’m not a big fan of his. Crist seems to change his mind every two seconds.”
But Scott has plenty of baggage of his own. Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011, has repeatedly attacked Scott’s time as head of hospital chain Columbia/HCA, which was hit with a $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. Scott also come under fire – largely from the left – for a host of conservative initiatives, such as pushing for drug testing of welfare recipients and pushing an austere budget that included big cuts to education spending in addition to slashing about 12,000 public sector jobs.
Terry Jones, a 57-year-old vocational counselor at a substance abuse clinic and St. Petersburg resident, said he voted for Crist, in part because the former governor wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10—something Scott is against. “It doesn’t bother me that Crist has switched parties. I’m about what’s best for the people, and he’s not the first politician to ever switch parties.”
Polls continually showed Crist and Scott in a dead heat. A Quinnipiac University survey released Monday echoed that pattern with Crist garnering 42% compared to Scott’s 41%, well within the poll’s margin of error. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie raked in a decent 7% and is taking away votes from both candidates, and 9% said they were undecided.
Both candidates continued to make final pitches to potential voters on Tuesday in a race that was characterized as one of the most expensive -- and ugliest -- in the country. Television ad spending surpassed the $100 million mark, including a recent $13 million directly from Gov. Scott’s own personal fortune.
Crist on Tuesday afternoon stopped by a phone bank in Tampa to give support to volunteers and said it wasn’t too late to come out to the polls. “This election is about you. Have a say in how it ends,” he tweeted. The Democrat spent the evening at the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg for an election watch event.
Scott, meanwhile, visited an additional six cities on Election Day, including Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Orlando, Pensacola and Miami – before settling in Bonita Springs to watch the results roll in. He sent a last-ditch email to supporters titled “Obama is here,” pointing to a new radio ad in which the commander-in-chief lends his support to Crist. “If you haven’t voted — go vote now!,” Scott wrote. “President Obama and Charlie Crist want you to stay home. That is how they won the presidency two years ago.”
Both candidates have also turned to political star power in this presidential battleground state in hopes of giving them a last-minute edge. On Monday, Crist held his last official, pre-election rally with former President Bill Clinton. And Scott campaigned with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The race has taken several nasty turns, with the two candidates trading jabs over their personal wealth. Crist has also highlighted Scott’s repeated use of the Fifth Amendment when his hospital chain was found guilty of fraud, and Scott has called Crist a lackey of President Obama. At times, the campaign has become downright silly – with a recent debate being infamously held up over whether or not a fan at Crist’s podium was against the rules.
Several national issues have also sparked fierce debate between the two candidates. The includes the minimum wage, medical marijuana (Scott is against a state amendment that would allow it, while Crist supports the legislation), and abortion (Scott is against abortion and has backed additional restrictions to reproductive rights, while Crist says he’s against any additional restrictions).
Some voters, like St. Petersburg resident Don Thompson, said they were so disenchanted by both candidates, that they were going to vote for neither—and instead focus on local races and ballot initiatives. “I am going to leave the [gubernatorial boxes] blank,” said Thompson, a retired I.T. executive. “I think Crist and Scott are both lousy. They are professional politicians and everything they do is done with special interests. It’s not about the voters.”
Early voting in Florida ended on Sunday, and about 3 million votes have already been cast. That includes 1.3 million ballots cast by Republicans and 1.2 million by Democrats.
Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University, said because this gubernatorial race has been so ugly and divisive, whoever wins -- in this case, Scott -- may actually feel like a loser. “It’s going to be hard for whoever wins to govern in terms of pushing bills, navigating the legislature and working with local counties and municipal governments.”