Rick Scott defeats Charlie Crist in tight race for Fla. governor

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Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott has won re-election, 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 overcame a late deficit in some polls to post the win. His campaign emphasized the drop in the state’s unemployment rate and criticized 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 the campaign. Scott is a multimillionaire who made his fortune as the founder and one-time CEO of a hospital chain.

Crist couldn’t overcome Scott’s attacks blaming him for the state’s financial problems during his term from 2007 to 2011. Crist blamed the troubles on the global economic meltdown.

A majority of Florida voters had an unfavorable view of incumbent Scott and believe Crist switched parties for political expediency, according to data from preliminary exit polling conducted in Florida for The Associated Press and the television networks.

A majority of voters also disapproved of how Scott responded to health care reform, the polling showed. While a majority of voters had a favorable view of Crist, six in 10 say the former GOP governor switched parties to win elections rather than to reflect his own beliefs. Overall, Florida voters expressed worry about the economy and overwhelmingly believe the nation is on the wrong track.

Here are some highlights of voters’ views from Tuesday’s elections based on the exit-polling interviews:

WHO LIKED CRIST: Crist appealed to blacks, Hispanics, moderates and younger voters. African-Americans supported Crist over Scott by an almost 8-to-1 margin, and Crist’s support among Hispanics was almost 20 points higher than it was for Scott. In fact, Scott’s support among Hispanics dropped by around a dozen points compared to the 2010 gubernatorial race. Crist also appealed to voters under the age of 40, and also voters who identified themselves as “moderate.” Voters in South Florida and Central Florida preferred Crist over Scott, as did voters in cities.

WHO LIKED SCOTT: White voters overwhelmingly supported Scott. While senior citizens supported Scott, the incumbent governor lost support among late middle-aged voters compared to the 2010 gubernatorial election. Scott’s appeal to voters who identify as “independent” also dropped by about 10 percentage points compared to four years ago. Voters without a college degree favored Scott over Crist, as did voters earning more than $100,000 a year and Catholic and Protestant voters. Voters in the Panhandle and along Florida’s Gulf Coast preferred Scott over Crist, as did voters in the suburbs and rural areas.

TOP ISSUES:  Florida voters are worried about the economy. By a 3-to-1 margin, voters said they are worried about the direction of the nation’s economy than not worried about it, and the economy was their top issue of concern. By a 2-1 margin, voters approve of the U.S. military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq than disapprove. Florida voters are evenly split on whether the state should recognize same-sex marriage, and a plurality of voters believe health care reform went too far.

The candidates, their political committees and their parties combined to spend more than $100 million. Scott had about a 2-to-1 spending advantage over Crist.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.