Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are gearing up for statewide recounts in their respective Senate and gubernatorial races, even as their Republican opponents have already declared victory.
Nelson’s campaign has retained veteran Democratic elections attorney Marc Elias to handle recount operations, while people familiar with the Gillum campaign’s plans told The Daily Beast that they, too, are heading into recount mode. The Gillum campaign is weighing moving staff into key counties where some ballots have not yet been counted.
As of Thursday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson’s Republican challenger, was ahead by around 17,000 votes, which is under the 0.25 percent margin that triggers a manual recount. Elias, who has handled recounts for several Democratic campaigns, told reporters he had “virtual certainty” that the final margin between Scott and Nelson would be “well under” 0.25 percent.
“We believe that at the end of this process, Sen. Nelson is going to be declared the winner and is going to return to the United States Senate,” said Elias, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie. But he cautioned: “When I say that I believe that it is currently a jump ball and that the results are unknown—I mean that. When I say that I suspect that Sen. Nelson is going to prevail in the end, I mean that too.”
Scott’s campaign immediately went on the attack.
“Let’s be clear: When Elias says ‘win,’ he means ‘steal,’” the campaign wrote in an email blast to reporters. “It is sad and embarrassing that Bill Nelson would resort to these low tactics after the voters have clearly spoken.”
Unlike Nelson, Gillum conceded to his GOP opponent, Ron DeSantis, on Tuesday night. But as thousands of votes are still being counted, the race is tightening. Florida law requires a machine recount when the margin between the two candidates is 0.5 percent or lower. As of Thursday morning, DeSantis was ahead of Gillum by 0.52 percent.
“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count,” the campaign’s communications director Johanna Cervone said. “Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported. Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”
Both campaigns are pinning their hopes on Broward County in particular, a Democratic stronghold in south Florida where thousands of ballots are still being recorded.
“Based on those results, before you even get to the recount, you’re going to see the race narrow,” Elias said.
In other parts of the state, local Democratic offices were asking for volunteers to call Floridians who might have used provisional ballots—which are given to voters whose identity, address or registration couldn’t be verified on Election Day—and encourage them to confirm that information with their county supervisors before the 5 p.m. deadline.
“I am confident, based on experience in virtually every state including some pretty red states, that provisional ballots, when they are counted and counted accurately, are going to break Democratic,” said Elias. “You are going to see vote share increase for Democratic candidates as those provisional ballots are counted.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who campaigned for Scott and DeSantis, pushed back on Elias’ efforts.
“Now democrat lawyers are descending on Florida,” he tweeted. “They have been very clear they aren’t here to make sure every vote is counted. They are here to change the results of election; & #Broward is where they plan to do it.”