Nelson declares victory on suspense-free night
By Anita Kumar, Wes Allison and Jennifer Liberto, Times staff writers
ORLANDO — To no one's surprise, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson easily won re-election Tuesday. He delivered a humiliating defeat to Rep. Katherine Harris, whose chaotic campaign was shunned even by her own party.
The only suspense on Tuesday was how large Nelson's margin of victory would be over Harris, a nationally recognized figure best known for her role in helping George Bush secure the presidency in the 2000 recount.
At 8:15 p.m., with Nelson's lead over Harris hovering around 20 percentage points, his staff declared victory. About 45 minutes later, Harris called Nelson to congratulate him.
The crowd of several hundred gathered at the Embassy Suites in downtown Orlando chanted "six more years" as Nelson took the stage.
"You all have honored me with more than anything I could have dreamed of tonight with this resounding victory," he said. "As I look . . . into the faces of the people of this great state, I'm so grateful for a lifetime of public service you all have given me."
Even though the outcome was a foregone conclusion, the Senate race in Florida still captured national attention for Harris' public mistakes and bizarre behavior.
She made controversial comments, hid from the media, repeatedly chased off her campaign staffers and is still being investigated by federal authorities for her relationship with a defense contractor later convicted of bribery.
At one time, both parties considered the race a prime chance for Republicans to unseat Nelson, the last statewide elected Democrat who was considered by many to be vulnerable. That changed when it became clear Harris would be the nominee.