St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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Nelson takes Senate seat

The Democrat wrests the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Connie Mack from the Republicans.

By ADAM C. SMITH, SHELBY OPPEL and THOMAS C. TOBIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


Democrat Bill Nelson declared victory in the U.S. Senate race Tuesday evening, as the consumer advocate opened up a lead over GOP congressman Bill McCollum in the race to fill Florida's first open Senate seat in 12 years.

photo
[AP Photo]
Democrat Bill Nelson addresses supporters as he claims victory over Republican Bill McCollum for Florida's Senate seat Tuesday in Tallahassee. His wife Grace Nelson is a left..
With the evening's returns showing Nelson ahead of McCollum, the Democratic insurance commissioner appeared poised to deliver a big blow to the Florida GOP. The seat is held by conservative GOP Sen. Connie Mack.

If the returns hold up, Florida, a state that has been trending Republican for years, would have two Democratic senators for the first time since 1988.

The television networks called the race for Nelson shortly after 7 p.m. But late Tuesday, the race tightened.

By mid-evening, Nelson had emerged to declare victory and McCollum had conceded defeat.

To an ebullient crowd in a ballroom at Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State University, Nelson thanked God and the people of Florida. He decried mean-spirited, partisan politics and repeated the central theme of his campaign: fighting special interests.

"People need public servants who will stand up for them and that's why I ran for this job," Nelson said. "Now I'm going to go to Washington and I'm going to stand up and fight for you in Washington.

"Ladies and gentleman, we won an election tonight, and we also reaffirmed the values and the commitment that we all share to do our best for the people of Florida and for the United States of America."

McCollum, a 20-year Orlando-area congressman running his first statewide race, had touted his steady climb in statewide polls and had hoped for more momentum from George W. Bush. In the end, neither was enough to overcome the vague image many voters had of McCollum as a stiff, arch-conservative partisan.

Within minutes after Florida's polls closed, the four major networks projected Nelson the winner, citing exit polls. McCollum supporters in the ballroom at the Orlando Marriott Downtown watched in resigned silence as Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham welcomed Nelson to the Senate in a nationally televised interview.

Two hours later, McCollum conceded: "This is not the end of our fight for better government, this is just the begining of our fight for better government," he told the crowd, standing beneath a big batch of unreleased balloons.

"This was never a campaign about Bill McCollum," he said. "This was always a campaign about ideas, always a campaign about better government, not bigger government. ... We had momentum coming our way at the end, we just didn't close the gap enough."

Nelson won a greater share of votes than Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, picking off Floridians who chose Republican George W. Bush.

St. Petersburg Times/ Voter News Service exit polls showed that 14 percent of Bush voters voted for Nelson, while 8 percent of Gore voters backed McCollum. Women overwhelmingly favored Nelson over McCollum, and Nelson beat out McCollum among voters of every age group.

State Rep. Willie Logan, running without party affiliation and with little money, wound up winning less than 4 percent of the vote, according to early returns.

The contest for Florida's first open Senate seat in 12 years pitted two articulate career politicians who struggled to generate attention in the shadow of a dead-heat presidential race in Florida.

They spent more money than any Senate candidates in Florida history -- at least $14.6-million between the two of them and millions more by their parties -- much of it for a barrage of negative TV attacks. Nelson and McCollum variously accused each other of raising taxes and attacking Social Security. McCollum called Nelson and liberal and failed insurance commissioner, while Nelson called McCollum an extremist and friend of anti-consumer special interests.

Only 10 years ago, it looked like Nelson's political career could be over. The former state lawmaker and congressman from Melbourne lost his gubernatorial bid in the Democratic primary. Four years later, though, Floridians elected him insurance commissioner, and Nelson carved out a reputation as a politician eager to fight for consumers against insurance corporations.

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From the Times election desk

National
  • Recount: Presidency hangs on Florida duel
  • Hour by hour, outcome gets more uncertain
  • State by state
  • Republicans make gains in skirmish for 83 seats
  • Uneasy mood in Austin flips as votes do
  • Voters swayed by economy, health care, education, Social Security
  • Too close to call in Florida but TV did -- regretfully
  • Presidential campaign lures people to polls
  • Fight for Congress: no clear-cut winner
  • Election 2000 in brief

  • State
  • Nelson takes Senate seat
  • Republican Crist well on path to victory
  • Incumbent Crow slightly ahead
  • Race turns into nail-biter
  • Byrd dominating in bid for third term
  • Farkas soundly beats Fischer
  • Foster breaks ahead, takes lead over Baldwin
  • Wallace jumps to early lead over his challenger
  • Henriquez holds strong lead
  • Cowin gains ground in home county
  • Incumbent strides ahead of newcomer
  • Justice leading Kersteen by a comfortable margin
  • Murman headed for second term
  • Newcomer battle ends with Republican Berfield as victor
  • Waters blocks Brennan challenge
  • Miller's hopes look to be affirmed
  • Miller overpowers former Democrat
  • Floridians keep right to elect judges
  • Crist has slight lead on Castor
  • Thurman keeps District 5 seat
  • Bilirakis has big lead in District 9
  • C.W. Bill Young winning handily
  • Bullet train heading for success
  • Davis wins third term
  • Putnam takes early lead
  • Incumbent Russell's win thinner than predicted
  • GOP Rep. Miller is likely victor
  • Floridians keep right to elect judges
  • Gallagher coasts to victory and his old job
  • Littlefield again defeats McLaughlin
  • Fasano, Fiorentino winning return trip
  • Election roundup
  • Briefly

  • Pinellas
  • Pinellas commission now full
  • One race won by landslide, another by a single vote
  • Lealman heads toward fire tax
  • Bobel, Dedman win approval
  • All changes to charter pass voters' muster
  • Peluso, Henry lead pack of 5 candidates

  • Hillsborough
  • Voters favor most amendments
  • Democrats bustle to get the vote out
  • Iorio builds her solid lead on record
  • Holt closing in on a third term
  • Term limits prevailing
  • Ober poised in attorney race
  • Republicans may reign in commission
  • Ake appears on his way to keep tenure unbroken
  • Results mixed on city amendments
  • Incumbent trails in four-way race
  • Two incumbents, Miller leading

  • Pasco
  • Altman holds slim lead
  • Challenger upsets incumbent Cannon
  • Second run is the charm for Schrader
  • Johnson captures Meadow Pointe post

  • Hernando
  • Bernardini bests longtime adversary
  • Sikes will succeed her sister upon retirement
  • Experienced teacher wins out over mom
  • Williams captures historic win
  • Early tally: Andrews first, Martin second, Hollander third
  • Democrats take over the board
  • Big ticket polls' big draw

  • Citrus
  • Activist Warren sails past Cooper
  • Council incumbents out; new mayor in
  • Schultz wins, will serve a final term ending in 2004
  • Hickey wins Citrus superintendent race
  • Bush is easy winner in the schoolhouse
  • Eager voters met with long lines
  • Candidate bounces out of hospital to ply voters


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    national wire
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