SARASOTA (WWSB) - After initially declaring victory on Election Day, Republican candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture Matt Caldwell admitted defeat on Monday.
After undergoing a manual recount, the race went to Democrat Nikki Fried. Fried won with 50.04 percent of the more than 8 million votes to Caldwell's 49.96 percent. The candidates were separated by just 6,753 ballots.
Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers, had declared victory Tuesday night at an election-watch party when he led the race by less than 13,000 votes. But as additional votes were counted from the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward counties, the race flipped and Fried came out ahead.
Fried, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and lobbyist, never conceded in the race, instead opting to wait until every vote was counted.
Because the race was so close, it triggered a recount. Under state law in Florida, a recount is mandatory if the winning candidate’s margin is 0.5 percentage points or less. If the statewide margin then falls below 0.25 percentage points, the Florida Secretary of State then orders a manual recount in each county.
In a statement conceding to Fried on Monday, Caldwell cast aspersions on the handling of ballots in Palm Beach and Broward counties, saying "we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed" and "to continue this legal challenge would likely require millions of dollars and months to complete without providing any more clarity."
"While I will not serve as Florida's next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, my campaign was not a loss," said Caldwell. "Every door knocked, every mile traveled, and every new hand shaken in every corner of the state, has emphasized the immediate and tangible needs of our state's farmers, workers, small business owners, and consumers.
Fried sent out a message on Twitter, saying Caldwell was gracious in defeat.
“I want to congratulate him on a close race and thank him for his willingness to step into the arena,” she said, adding, “And to everyone who supported him, I will be your voice in Tallahassee, too.”
The election results will be certified on Tuesday. Fried will become the first woman to serve as Florida’s agriculture commissioner.