The chaotic images out of Florida’s election recount last week — the brigade of Washington lawyers, the déjà vu meltdown of the tallying in Broward County, the vitriolic charges and countercharges — have prompted flashbacks among the electorate of the 2000 presidential election. Yet to the combatants in both parties fighting over impossibly tight races for governor and senate, the 2018 election was less about revisiting past political traumas than about setting the stage for the bitter 2020 campaign ahead. The legal and political skirmishing in the state, Republicans and Democrats say, has been an ominous dry run for messaging and tactics about fraud and vote-stealing that threaten to further undermine confidence in the electoral system. Florida emerged from the 2018 midterms with a fortified reputation as the nation’s most competitive battleground, a state whose political culture most closely reflects the slashing political style of its adopted son, President Trump — with candidates focused on energizing voters with visceral, at times over-the-top, messages.
That approach is “not a good long-term strategy for the party or for the country,” said Miami-area Representative Carlos Curbelo, one of two Republican House members in Florida to lose their seats to Democrats.
“A lot of Republicans are happy because we had successful statewide candidates, but those races were very, very close, and we lost some races too, especially in South Florida,” said Mr. Curbelo, 38, who bucked his party by adopting moderate positions on environmental issues and immigration. “As for 2020, I’m really worried that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
It was only this weekend, almost two weeks after the election, that Florida’s two biggest races were determined, with Senator Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, conceding to Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday, and Andrew Gillum conceding the governor’s race to his G.O.P. rival, Ron DeSantis, the day before.
In the interim, Democrats pursued numerous lawsuits challenging the vote-counting process in the Senate race — though Mr. Nelson’s odds of overtaking Mr. Scott were always fairly low — while Republicans lobbed unfounded accusations of voter fraud at the Democrats. The bickering focused even greater scrutiny on an American election system that is straining under human and mechanical error.