Overshadowing a growing vote fight over a close Governor’s race in Georgia, the race for U.S. Senate in Florida exploded into political finger pointing on Thursday, as President Donald Trump stood behind Gov. Rick Scott, who joined national Republicans in filing a lawsuit against a south Florida county elections chief, while Senators and top politicians in the Sunshine State openly trade barbs on social media with Republicans charging that Democrats were trying to swipe a seat in the U.S. Senate.
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio set off Democrats on Thursday morning, as he accused elections officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties Florida of violating state law on how votes were being reported.
“It has opened the door for lawyers to come here & try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate,” Rubio wrote on Twitter, drawing rebukes from Democrats.
“You literally used the phrase “steal a seat,” said Gwen Graham, daughter of the former Senator and Governor, as she blasted Rubio as “Lil’ Trump.”
The day began with the Republican Governor ahead of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 60,000 votes, but as officials in Palm Beach County and Broward County – two of the most reliable Democratic counties in the state – worked through votes that had not yet been counted, Sen. Nelson cut into Gov. Scott’s lead through the day, winnowing it down to just over 15,000 votes by Thursday evening.
Instead of just talking about a possible recount in the Senate race, some Democrats were openly predicting that Nelson would win re-election, and prevent Republicans from picking up a key Senate victory.
After polling expert Nate Silver said the Florida race was now ‘Lean Republican,’ Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias suggested something different.
“I suggest you move it to toss-up,” Elias said on Twitter, as he blasted Gov. Scott’s evening announcement of a lawsuit against the Broward County elections chief.
There were obvious parallels to the 2000 post-election vote fight in Florida over the race for President, as both parties quickly mobilized to get legal experts to Florida to deal with the matter.
By 11 pm on Thursday night, Scott had 4,094,767 votes, or 50.09 percent, to 4,079,693 for Nelson, at 49.91 percent. The race for Governor had also closed, as Republican Ron DeSantis led Democrat Andrew Gillum by a slightly larger margin, but that had shrunk during Thursday as well.
For the occupant of the White House, there was only one election outcome in Florida which was acceptable, as the President went on Twitter to weigh in on behalf of Gov. Scott, and to declare that the winner had already been chosen – even as more votes were being counted.
“Florida voted for Rick Scott!” the President said.
Meanwhile, Twitter quickly disintegrated into a political food fight over the Florida Senate race, with lawmakers in both parties tossing jabs, ripping off political scabs still not healed from the 2000 vote fight that gave George W. Bush the White House.
“You’re on notice – the 2000 GOP recount playbook will come back out in 2018,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Solving this requires a hand recount – the exact same hand recount that was shut down in Bush v. Gore.”
“We must count every single vote in Florida,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), who took aim at Florida’s other Senator.
“Sen. Rubio should not wildly speculate & make reckless charges questioning the legitimacy of elections. Instead let's count every single vote, shall we?” Deutch wrote on Twitter.
“In a democracy, no one—not even the President—can prevent the lawful counting of votes. We will not allow him or anyone else to steal this election,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.
“Go to a hand recount, in each county. Supervise every vote, count every vote, and accept the results,” said ex-Rep. David Jolly (R-FL).
“I think we can all be patient enough to wait and know the count is fair,” Jolly added.
The fight over the Florida Senate race came as thousands of ballots were still being counted in Arizona, as the Democratic Rep. Kirsten Sinema suddenly took the lead from GOP Rep. Martha McSally.
If Democrats were to somehow turn around both the Arizona and Florida races, they would be able to limit GOP gains in the Senate to a single seat – at one point on Tuesday night, Republicans had been dreaming of picking up as many as six seats.