MIAMI - Republican Rick Scott declared victory in the Florida governor's race Wednesday, saying he beat Democrat Alex Sink in a close and bruising contest that flooded the airwaves with attack advertisements.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Miami Herald and other Florida newspapers said Scott appeared to have won with a wafer-thin 1 percentage point edge over Sink in the electoral swing state.
"Based on the numbers we're seeing, after all the votes are counted, I'm absolutely confident I will be the next governor," Scott told supporters early on Wednesday at his election night headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.
"We look forward to finishing the count. We know we're going to win. We have won and we look forward to getting this state back to work."
There was no immediate response from Sink but she had declined to concede hours earlier, telling her own supporters the race was too close to call.
"It's coming down to the wire in what looks to be a dead-even race," she said shortly after midnight, as Scott clung to the narrow but persistent lead he held since the polls closed on Tuesday evening.
"We're Floridians, so we know what it means to count every single vote," Sink said.
She was referring to the state's well-known reputation for electoral controversies and the so-called "Butterfly Ballot" and "Hanging Chad" mayhem that erupted during the 2000 presidential vote count.
After 3 a.m. EDT , there was still no word on when the final official results would be made public. It was also unclear whether an automatic recount might be triggered, if results are within half of 1 percentage point.
With more than 5 million ballots counted, the difference between Scott and Sink was just 54,260 votes.
Scott poured more than $72 million of the fortune he amassed when he led the Columbia/HCA hospital chain into his bid for governor. He sought to paint Sink as a liberal close to President Barack Obama who also oversaw large losses in Florida's pension fund.
Sink tried to keep the spotlight on Scott's leadership of Columbia/HCA, which paid $1.7 billion in fines to settle the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history in the late 1990s.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
Scott, 57, was never charged in the Medicare case and contends he did not know about the fraud during his stewardship of Columbia/HCA as chief executive. He resigned from the company in 1997 and has been a virulent critic of healthcare reform under Obama.
Scott's personal spending on his first run for office made it the most expensive gubernatorial race in Florida's history, state election authorities said.
Scott has been short on specifics about his plans for bringing down Florida's unemployment rate, which ranks fourth highest in the country at 11.9 percent. He has also said little about possible ways of rescuing the recession-hit state from the mortgage foreclosure crisis. (Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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