After the votes were tallied in the Florida Keys, exactly one vote gave Gov. Rick Scott a victory over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.
Scott: 18,021 votes. Nelson: 18,020 votes.
That’s according to the Monroe County Elections Department, which said on its website Thursday that it had counted all of the 36,150 votes cast in the U.S. Senate race (109 votes were write-ins).
As of Thursday, the Scott-Nelson race was headed to a recount, as the margin between the two had shrunk to 17,333 out of 8,166,081 cast statewide. That’s within the machine recount window of half of 1 percent and within the manual recount window of 0.25 percent, as the margin was 0.21 percent, according to incomplete and unofficial statewide returns.
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In the Keys’ other races — including the governor’s race, Carlos Curbelo’s Congressional seat and local races — Republicans prevailed. Outside of Key West, a Democratic stronghold in the Keys, Monroe County tends to lean red, going strongly for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
But Keys voters have been lukewarm on Scott, who has faced fierce criticism from environmentalists, Democrats and even Republicans for many of his environmental policies during his two terms in office. In his first year as governor, Scott demanded that the state’s five water management districts slash their budgets by $700 million.
During Scott’s successful reelection campaign in 2014 against Charlie Crist, he lost the Keys vote by five percentage points.
Republicans in the Keys, where fishing, diving, paddling and sailing are ways of life, are known to vote with a candidate’s environmental record in mind.
“Florida Republicans used to have a strong conservation ethic,” said Ed Davidson, a Florida Keys dive shop owner, former Monroe County school board member and environmentalist who advised former Gov. Jeb Bush on some of his major environmental initiatives.
One of those was the 2001 Florida Forever program using $300 million from real estate taxes to buy conservation lands.
In 2016, the Republican-led state Legislature budgeted no money for Florida Forever.
“Scott has overseen the revocation of a whole host of environmental safeguards that all of Florida has lobbied for for decades,” Davidson said. “Scott was a betrayal of the legacy of Jeb Bush and the environmental traditions of a great many Republicans.”
Scott’s Senate campaign spokesman Chris Hartline did not return a phone call seeking comment. Members of the Republican Party of Monroe County could not be reached for comment on Scott’s poor midterm showing in the Keys.
John Timura, a lifelong Republican Key Largo business owner and longtime backcountry fisherman, railed against Scott on social media this summer after the red tide algae bloom began turning the state’s normally turquoise waters off the southwest coast into a lime green slime. Scores of fish, manatees, sea turtles and dolphins washed up dead and bloated.
“Republicans used to be conservationists. We took care of the environment and we loved the outdoors,” said Timura, 48. “Now, we act like wanton capitalists, and the state of Florida’s ecosystem will never recover from this in our lifetimes.”
Many have been targeted in the algae bloom’s blame game. Scott has declared a state of emergency and authorized $20 million to areas affected by red tide. The problem has persisted for almost a year and flared up this summer, even reaching some east coast beaches.
But critics, including Nelson, say it’s too little, too late, pointing to Scott ordering budget cuts to water-management agencies that oversee Everglades restoration and advise the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Lake Okeechobee. The lake is full of agricultural runoff, which overflows into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and could be making the algae bloom worse.
“As a state, we voted to end greyhound racing. But when millions of pounds of sea life suffered horrific deaths as a result of Rick Scott’s lust for cashing out on our environment, we as a state said this is OK,” Timura said. “In fact, we gave him a job promotion.”