BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation, won re-election Tuesday after turning back former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who was trying to return to office as a Democrat.
The Associated Press declared Scott the winner Tuesday night with nearly all precincts reporting. He held nearly 49 percent of the vote to Crist’s nearly 47 percent.
The 61-year-old Scott becomes just the second GOP governor in state history to win re-election — and he did it despite low favorability ratings among Floridians.
Scott spent his campaign emphasizing the drop in the state’s unemployment rate during his first term and criticizing Crist as a political opportunist and supporter of President Barack Obama.
In the final days, Scott and his wife put almost $13 million of their own money into a campaign that was already one of the most expensive in the nation. Scott is a multimillionaire who made his fortune as the founder and one-time CEO of a hospital chain. He spent over $70 million of his own money getting elected four years ago.
Crist could not overcome Scott’s attacks that blamed him for the state’s financial problems during his term from 2007 to 2011. Crist blamed the state’s troubles on the global economic meltdown. Crist’s defeat may all but end his political career. He also lost a three-way race for U.S. Senate in 2010.
Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie received about 4 percent of the vote.
The campaign between the two main candidates was bitter and personal, and it was laid out in a series of increasingly harsh television ads. Crist criticized Scott over education cuts he pursued during his first year in office as well as the investigation into Scott’s company that resulted in a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. Scott’s ads pounded Crist over his party switch and that some of his past political allies had wound up going to prison over corruption charges.
Some voters, however, said they tuned out the back-and-forth and chose Scott for what he had done in trying to turn the state’s economy around.
“I’m looking at what Rick Scott has accomplished in Florida,” said Mike Bales, a 68-year-old retiree who moved to The Villages from the Midwest two years ago and cast his ballot for Scott.
BRENDAN FARRINGTON AND GARY FINEOUT, Associated Press