As the Republican margin in Florida’s U.S. Senate race narrowed and the contest headed toward a manual recount, everyone from elected Republicans to online conspiracy-mongers began screaming foul on Thursday night.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is clinging to a roughly 34,000-vote lead over Sen. Bill Nelson (D), held a press conference at the Florida governor’s mansion in which he called on law enforcement to launch an investigation and announced that he and the National Republican Senate Committee were bringing a lawsuit against officials in Broward County, where many votes are still being counted.
In other words, the state governor used his state-funded official residence to launch legal action against his own state’s election officials about an election he was a candidate in.
That was merely the formal legal tip of the brewing Republican pushback.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had a social media meltdown, claiming in a long series of tweets that Democratic lawyers had come to Broward to “change the results of the election.”
Florida’s gubernatorial race is also tightening. The race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis had appeared to be over on Tuesday night, when Gillum, the Democrat, conceded. But as the counts continued, particularly in Broward County, the gap between the candidates narrowed so much that it passed the 0.5 percent automatic recount threshold on Thursday afternoon, Politico reported.
The late swing toward the Democrats—powered by South Florida—is so pronounced in the election for Florida’s agriculture commissioner that Democrat Nikki Fried has now moved into the lead after she trailed her Republican rival on Election Night.
As of Thursday night, officials in Broward County—where around 1.2 million people are registered to vote—gave no indication of the number of ballots still to count.
Rubio was hardly the only conservative propagating remarkable theories online about how the election was literally being stolen from them, before the party’s conspiracist-in-chief weighed in Thursday evening:
That came after far-right activists on Twitter had circulated a hashtag, “#StopTheSteal,” to organize opposition to counting ballots in Florida. Ali Alexander, a self-described philosopher and Republican activist who runs a PAC that’s bankrolled by the billionaire pro-Trump Mercer family, urged his fans to protest in Broward County.
“Protest everything,” Alexander tweeted. “Disrupt everything.”
In his Thursday press conference, Scott revved up his party’s grassroots, calling for a law-enforcement investigation and accusing Democrats of trying to steal the election.
“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election,” Scott said.
Scott also sought to tie Nelson’s recount effort to Hillary Clinton, pointing out that Nelson’s election lawyer, Marc Elias, also worked for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and helped arrange financing for the Fusion GPS “dossier” on Donald Trump. Right-wing media quickly picked up on the Elias connection, with Breitbart devoting top placement on its homepage to a video describing Elias as a “Lawyer Tied to Clinton Campaign & ‘Pee Dossier.’”
Much of the attention online has focused on an unclear video that purports to show ballots being transported in private cars, which Scott supporters say would violate chain-of-custody rules. Rubio and a number of right-wing blogs have promoted the video, which was shot by failed congressional candidate Tim Canova.
Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections didn’t respond to a request for comment about the video. Canova, a former Democrat who came in third on Election Day with an independent challenge against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), has also disputed the results of his own election defeat.
The Republican anxiety in Florida comes as they face worsening odds in another late-counting Senate race, this time in Arizona. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema took a thin lead in the Arizona race on Thursday as more votes were counted.