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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).

The solid North Florida thumping raises questions about Sink’s attempts to appeal to rural voters by distancing herself from President Obama. All it might have done is distance some Obama voters from her.

Sink lost counties like Flager and Volusia, where Obama won. Relative to Obama’s margins, Sink's support was also weaker than Obama's in Miami-Dade, Broward,  Hillsborough, Pinellas and Orange counties.

Earlier in the campaign, Sink said she was watching North Florida. There could be a case to be made that she stopped looking South in the process.

But then, maybe Sink was just unlucky. Or just doomed. Consider the bloodbath: statewide, Democrats lost the races for governor, chief financial officer, agriculture commissioner, attorney general and U.S Senate. They lost four of their 10 congressional seats, and didn't pick up one. And they lost enough seats in the state House and Senate that Republicans say they now have a veto-proof majority in the Legislature -- just in case.

Soon, Sink's campaign will brief reporters in Tampa, and will likely vow to fight or count on. But the way the votes are breaking, it's looking more and more like Scott's the 45 governor of Florida.