Democratic Candidates Do Well In Sunshine State
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Five hundred thirty-eight electoral votes were up for grabs on Election Day. President Obama has won, so far, 303 of them, a comfortable majority. Mitt Romney has 206. Twenty-nine are still unaccounted for - the electoral votes of Florida. Too close to call there. Less than a percentage point divides the candidates. But down the ballot, Democrats did well. The party retained a Senate seat and picked up a few key congressional races as well. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson held off a challenge from Republican congressman Connie Mack. In Orlando after his victory, Nelson called for unity.
SENATOR BILL NELSON: We have to bring this country together. It's an extremely polarized, excessively partisan, ideologically rigid political environment. And the people are tired of that.
ELLIOTT: But Mack, the GOP challenger, didn't sound conciliatory.
REPRESENTATIVE CONNIE MACK: We may have lost the battle, but we haven't lost the war.
ELLIOTT: In one of the hardest fought congressional battles here, Democrat Patrick Murphy, a political newcomer, is claiming a narrow victory over Republican incumbent Allen West. It was the most expensive House race in the country. West, a Tea Party freshman, isn't conceding.
Democrats will also be sending former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel and Miami attorney Joe Garcia to Congress. The state party called it a good day to be a Democrat in Florida.
Republicans, meanwhile, gathered in downtown Tampa for the state GOP's election night party - a party that never really got started.
LENNY CURRY: Look, it's been a long night.
ELLIOTT: Florida Republican chairman Lenny Curry addressed the crowd late in the evening, just after the news that President Obama had passed the electoral threshold for re-election.
CURRY: Stick around as long as you'd like to. Pray.
ELLIOTT: Disheartened Republicans, like Tampa businessman Dwight Lankford, slowly filed out of the hotel ballroom.
DWIGHT LANKFORD: I think it's a great disappointment, and America took a wrong step tonight.
ELLIOTT: As the tight Presidential race here indicates, both campaigns worked hard to turn out their voters. Long lines were the story for both early voting and on Election Day.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) Fired up.
GROUP: (Chanting) Ready to vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, we're fired up.
ELLIOTT: Outside an east Tampa precinct, Vietnam veteran Oliver Sutton waved Obama signs and rallied voters.
GROUP: (Chanting) Four more years, four more years.
ELLIOTT: He says he voted for President Obama in 2008, but this year was rejected at the polls because of questions about whether his voting rights had been restored after a felony conviction. It didn't deter his participation.
OLIVER SUTTON: So what I did, I got 14 people to register to vote because they wouldn't let me vote. So, ha-ha.
ELLIOTT: The economy was the dominant issue for most voters I spoke with in this mainly African-American working class neighborhood. Jewel McMillian is an unemployed, single mother of three who uses food stamps. She voted for President Obama. She says Romney doesn't understand her plight.
JEWEL MCMILLIAN: I don't feel like he can relate to us, like, because he never had to struggle.
ELLIOTT: Exit polls show President Obama with strong support among black and Hispanic voters in Florida. In a statement last night, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a key surrogate for the Romney campaign, said Republicans need to work harder to communicate their beliefs to people in minority and immigrant communities.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Tampa.
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