Two days after Election Day, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) got a call from President Trump’s reelection campaign manager: Get to Broward County, Florida’s Democratic stronghold, where officials were still tallying ballots in a tight U.S. Senate race. Around the same time, Marc Elias, a top Democratic Party lawyer who was general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, was preparing to fly to Florida to lead a likely recount in that contest. Over the next eight days, armies of lawyers and party operatives swarmed the state as elections officials undertook a laborious recount of the Senate vote and two other statewide elections, racing into courtrooms and onto the airwaves and social media to jockey over every ballot. In the end, the exhausting fight did little to change Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s lead over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who conceded in a phone call to his GOP rival Sunday. But there was much more at stake in the nation’s biggest presidential swing state: the rules of engagement for 2020.
Amid the raucous street protests and updates from sleep-deprived election workers, influential figures in both parties inserted themselves into the drama — testing legal strategies to influence the makeup of the electorate and political arguments to win public opinion.
Florida’s sprawling and diverse landscape of largely Democratic big cities, politically independent suburbs and conservative rural swaths make it a key battleground for debates over voting rights and ballot access expected to shape the next campaign.
Demonstrators, including Rebecca Vedrine, center, gather Wednesday outside the Broward County supervisor of elections’ headquarters. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
[Democrat Bill Nelson concedes to Rick Scott in Florida race for Senate]
“The recount was a stress test of the Florida electoral system,” said Gaetz, who had just left Broward County when the call came from Brad Parscale to drive the 300 miles back. “If you were the Trump 2020 campaign, wouldn’t you have concerns right now about what the terrain here will look like?’’