November 03, 2010

Little counties pack big Republican punch for Rick Scott

Though all votes haven’t been tallied in Democrat-rich Palm Beach County yet (it's just after 5 a.m. Wednesday), Republican Rick Scott looks as if he beat Democrat Alex Sink statewide by about a percentage point: 49-48. That’s the same margin that the exit polls predicted about 8 p.m. Tuesday.

While success has many fathers, Scott owes a good debt of gratitude to North Florida counties. These rural tracts helped nudge Scott past Sink. Consider his lead in just three otherwise little-seeming counties:

Okaloosa: 27,674
Clay: 27,287
Santa Rosa: 22,151

Together, those three account for enough votes (77,000) to exceed Scott’s statewide lead (72,000) over Sink.

The big margins run up by Scott in most rural Florida areas largely negated the leads that Sink built up in the cities. And her margins in the cities, especially South Florida, weren’t big enough. She only edged Scott by 15 percentage points in Miami-Dade, where she pulled in 68,000 more votes than Scott. (There could be a Rubio Effect that attracted Miami-Dade voters to the Republican ticket).

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November 02, 2010

David Rivera wins; Joe Garcia concedes in speech

Democrat Joe Garcia hadn't called Republican David Rivera when we spoke to him about half an hour ago, and state elections officials haven't officially called the 25th Congressional District race, but it's over: Garcia gave a concession speech in West Kendall about an hour ago, shortly after Rivera, celebrating at the Biltmore, spoke about his decisive victory to replace Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.

It was a big night at the Biltmore: Rivera also introduced Marco Rubio, whose triumphant speech was broadcast on national networks as the face of Tuesday's powerful GOP tidal wave sweeping the country.

--MELISSA SANCHEZ AND ANA VECIANA SUAREZ

Miami Beach state senate race down to 19 votes for now

Republican Gus Barreiro, a former state representative, holds a 19-vote lead over incumbent Democratic state Rep. Luis Garcia of Miami Beach. Not all the results are in, but it's a nail-biter that could go to an automatic recount if the numbers stay this close. Barreiro is running for his old seat; a victory for him would be a pickup for Florida Republicans looking for a veto-proof majority in the state House.

It's starting to look like Governor Rick Scott

Republican Rick Scott leads Democrat Alex Sink by 200,000 votes right now, and at the current rate of returns, it doesn't look like Sink can catch up. It's not over yet. But it's real close.

Consider: Scott rolled up huge numbers in all the northern counties, which gave him 10,000 or more votes. Sink is only making gains in Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange and Leon (though there's something up in Palm Beach and Hillsborough). What's more, she's only up by 7 percentage points in Miami-Dade. A big turnout could help Sink in Broward, which 912,000 voters, but only 29 percent of their vote has been counted. So it's marginally possible she could make up the difference there and in Palm Beach.

But the rest of the state looks red. All the Cabinet seats look like they've been won by Republicans. Three Democratic congressmen lost their seats and a fourth looks like he's on his way to losing to a GOP candidate.

Kendrick Meek's concession speech

Rep. Kendrick Meek gave a composed concession speech to Republican wunderkind Marco Rubio in front of an anemic crowd of 100 supporters at the Rusty Pelican on Virginia Key.

Appearing alongside his mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek, his sister, wife and two kids, Meek congratulated the incoming senator for attaining a victory that he said "no one could foresee a few years ago."

"From some who came from the outside to come inside to take the type of commanding lead he had a month ago is to be commended,'' Meek said.

Meek also said he had "charitable words" with Gov. Charlie Crist, whose decision to run as an independent likely grabbed voters who would have otherwise voted for Crist.

"The governor and I didn't see eye-to-eye,'' he said. "In fact, I think he did bring about some confusion about where he stood [on issues]. But this campaign is over. The people have spoken."

Meek said he hasn't given much thought to what he''ll do next - aside from fishing and spending time with his family. The campaign was tough to win in this political climate, he said, given the anti-Incumbent, red tide sweeping across the country's political landscape.

"I feel that we put on the best race we could in these circumstances,'' Meek said, adding that "Rubio achieved a  "victory we did not see a couple years ago."

--- ROBERT SAMUELS

No one at Garcia party yet; big guns out for Rivera

Only reporters have shown up so far to Casa Vieja restaurant in West Kendall, where Democrat Joe Garcia had planned his campaign party Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, at the Biltmore, Republican David Rivera had at least three dozen people there about an hour ago. And now, Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart strolled in.

--MELISSA SANCHEZ AND ANA VECIANA SUAREZ

Rubio party rocks; Rivera leads Garcia in absentees

Republican David Rivera's campaign is set up in a ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, eagerly awaiting election results.

By 7:20 p.m., absentee ballot numbers showed Rivera comfortably ahead of Democrat Joe Garcia, which had Rivera supporters were talking animatedly.

"We killed them in the absentees," Rivera campaign manager Javier Correoso said. "I think the absentee ballots showed a message: We had a very aggressive ground game operation with a lot of volunteers."

The few dozen people in the ballroom for Rivera paled in comparison to what was unfolding outside, as hundreds of Marco Rubio supporters cheered in the hotel courtyard as the results for the U.S. Senate race flashed on Fox News. Also at the Rubio party: a stage with a band playing live salsa music.

--MELISSA SANCHEZ

Sink camp watching turnout and concludes: if it's a recount, they'll know by 9:15

Alex Sink's pollster Dave Beattie said the key to the Democrat's win against Rick Scott tonight is Democratic turnout. To that end, the Democratic Party has injected the most resources it has ever devoted to a statewide campaign. They are targeting voters in low turnout areas through phone calls and offering rides to the polls.

Republicans showed up to vote in absentee and early voting in higher number than Democrats, leaving an estimated 3.3 million Republicans left to vote and 4.3 million Democrats still not voting. To overcome the gap, the Sink campaign is hoping for another one or two percent of voters to show up at the polls, matching or exceeding the 47 percent of registered voters who turned out in the 2006 mid-term elections when Gov. Charlie Crist beat Democrat Jim Davis. By contrast, turnout in 2002 when was 51 percent when Gov. Jeb Bush defeated Sink's husband, Bill McBride.

"The higher the turnout the better for us becuase there are so many Democrats who haven't vote,'' Beattie said. "Democrats don't need a record high turnout. They need to match 2006, which was a record low."

Beattie predicted that Sink will do better with Republicans than any Democrat has done in the state since Lawton Chiles drew Republican voters in 1994 and, unlike Democrats across the country, he said she is also appealing to independents.

But Sink is prepared for the nail-biter that has characterized the race for the last two months to continue.

"We're not gritting our teeth bracing for a recount but there are things that could lead that way,'' Sink told reporters at campaign party headquarters Tuesday. She said that her campaign is getting anecdotal reports that Democratic turnout is higher than expected and that Republicans are crossing over in significant numbers to vote for Sink.

Rain in Tampa dampens sign-waving but Sink campaigns at lunch

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Alex Sink had an Election Day lunch with her father, Kester Sink, her husband, Bill McBride and sister, Dottie Sykes, at First Choice BBQ in Brandon. Sink and McBride, who consider themselves barbeque aficionados, have been bringing their children here for 19 years and swear that owner Roger's Storr's chopped pork sandwiches is the best they have had anywhere. The family and campaign staff waited in the long lunch line and used it for one more campaign pitch, handling out stickers and introducing Sink. 

Kester, Sink's 87-year-old father, siddled up to a table of middle-aged men eating lunch, some Democrats and some Republicans. While none wanted to give their names because they didn't want to anger their Republican friends, they told him they have been long-time Sink supporters.

A light rain later forced Sink to postpone her plans to wave signs after lunch.