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Caldwell Concedes Cabinet Race To Fried

Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell debates on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives in May 2017. He served in the House for eight years before running for agriculture commissioner. He narrowly lost to Democrat Nikki Fried.
Meredith Gettings
Florida House of Representatives
Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell debates on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives in May 2017. He served in the House for eight years before running for agriculture commissioner. He narrowly lost to Democrat Nikki Fried.

Republican Matt Caldwell pointed to a need for political “sanity” and a “peaceful transfer of power” Monday as he conceded the race for Florida agriculture commissioner to Fort Lauderdale lawyer Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to win statewide this year.

Caldwell, a real-estate appraiser from North Fort Myers who has served the past eight years in the Florida House, said in a statement that he still had questions about how ballots were handled in Palm Beach and Broward counties, where he had filed a lawsuit. But he didn’t want to use “legal loopholes to win an election.”

“All I have ever expected since Election Day is a full and fair accounting of all legal votes cast, and then respecting the will of the voters,” Caldwell said. “Unfortunately, as a result of the abject failures in Broward and Palm Beach, it has become clear that we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed, despite the exhaustive efforts of my legal team to get to the truth. To continue this legal challenge would likely require millions of dollars and months to complete without providing any more clarity.”

A short time after Caldwell’s announcement, Fried tweeted that she received a phone call from Caldwell and “he could not have been more gracious.”

“I want to congratulate him on a close race and thank him for his willingness to step into the arena. And to everyone who supported him, I will be your voice in Tallahassee too,” Fried tweeted.

The state Elections Canvassing Commission will meet Tuesday to certify the results of the Nov. 6 elections.

A manual recount completed Sunday raised Fried’s lead over Caldwell to 6,753 votes out of more than 8 million cast in the race for a seat on the state Cabinet. The manual recount added 1,446 votes to Fried’s total from an earlier machine recount, according to results posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Caldwell’s campaign Sunday continued to explore how heavily Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties handled the recount. The Republican’s attorneys contended in the earlier lawsuit that about 17,000 vote-by-mail ballots were collected and counted in Broward County after polls closed at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6.

Caldwell also attacked Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes for “staggering incompetence” after her office was unable to provide the results of a machine recount to the state by a Thursday deadline.

Snipes, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 and re-elected four times, submitted her resignation --- effective Jan. 4 --- to Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday.

Caldwell’s concession Monday came a short time after the Republican Party of Palm Beach County called for volunteers to help with a recount expected to be conducted locally Tuesday and Wednesday.

Caldwell, who noted the need for a “peaceful transfer of power” by alluding to how Richard Nixon accepted the results of a “fraud” filled 1960 election won by President John F. Kennedy, said he was no longer challenging the results.

In a separate letter thanking supporters, Caldwell said the current “unhealthy” state of politics weighed in his decision.

“That hit home this last week when the FBI informed me that I was among the group of individuals that the recently captured pipe bomber had researched prior to his arrest,” Caldwell wrote. “Even our own governor-elect was a near target of the baseball field shootings. There is no place for political violence in a democratically elected republic. Our remedy is the ballot box and it should remain there. Embracing this fact can only make us stronger. The sooner we return to peaceful sanity, the better.”

In addition to his letter to supporters, Caldwell submitted a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that calls for reform of the election process and outlined “mistakes, errors and failures” in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Among his proposals: changes to how votes are delivered, sorted and counted; basic training for supervisors of elections and their staffs; extended time periods for machine and manual recounts; and a process for canvassing boards to request extensions to complete counting.

Caldwell declared victory on election night, as ballots counted several hours after the polls closed had him up by more than 40,000 votes. But over the next several days, as more ballots were tabulated, particularly in South Florida, Fried pulled ahead.

Fried, who has also worked as a medical marijuana lobbyist, first claimed victory after unofficial returns were posted on Nov. 10. But state law required machine and manual recounts because of the slim margins between the candidates.

Fried has set up a transition team headed by Congressman Darren Soto of Orlando and former Congressman Patrick Murphy.

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News Service of Florida