Northwest Florida’s propensity for pulling Republican Party candidates over the finish line in statewide races showed through once again Tuesday night.

Numbers indicate that neither Ron DeSantis nor Rick Scott would be claiming victory Wednesday without the support of the 10 Florida counties in the Central Time Zone.

Scott, who has never failed when he visits to credit Northwest Florida for twice putting him in the Governor’s Mansion, was 30,161 votes ahead of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson when unofficial election results were released late Tuesday.

He won the Panhandle by 164,712.

DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by a 50,766-vote margin to keep the governor’s job in GOP hands.

His margin of victory in Northwest Florida was 163,692.

“In Orlando, I was having to give frequent pep talks to volunteers and onlookers, as they were nervous when DeSantis was behind a couple of percentage points,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach resident who was with the governor-elect through Tuesday.

“I assured them the good people of Northwest Florida would be delivering victory for Republicans as we have for governors and presidents in the past.”

Gaetz, who won his First District congressional race with just under 70 percent of the vote, was the first to introduce DeSantis as Florida’s new governor.

“I started my introduction by making sure everyone knew it was the Panhandle that delivered victory,” he said.

CNN television commentators made sure Tuesday night during election coverage to clarify that Florida has counties in the Eastern and Central time zones. A failure to recognize that has burned pundits in the past who were too quick to predict the outcome of a political race.

The 10 Central Time counties — Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Gulf and Calhoun — all went to Scott and DeSantis, most by wide margins.

DeSantis collected 290,720 total Panhandle votes to Gillum’s 127,028. He received 73.7 percent of the total votes cast for Republicans and Democrats in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties, and a total of 138,896 votes in those three counties to Gillum’s 47,533.

The vote difference in the Northwest Florida Daily News coverage area alone was 91,363, significantly more than DeSantis’s margin of victory statewide.


Scott, who had angered many in Walton County by signing House Bill 631, which singled out the county and wiped out its customary use ordinance, received only 163 total votes less there than did DeSantis.

Overall, Scott captured 294,022 Panhandle votes to Nelson’s 129,310. He received 74 percent of the votes notched for Republicans or Democrats in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties and received 139,902 votes in those three counties to Nelson’s 22,222.

The vote difference for Scott in the Northwest Florida Daily News coverage area was 90,600, which, as in the governor’s race, exceeded the statewide margin of victory.

Gaetz said a late visit to Pensacola by President Donald Trump had created a surge in last-minute Republican voting and Bay County residents, who while still battling to climb out from under the destruction of Hurricane Michael, cast 45,696 votes for DeSantis and 46,595 for Scott, provided an unexpected boost.

"I have a special place in my heart for the people of Bay County. Everybody was counting them out, but they got out and voted," he said. "Every statistical model showed there would be a massive under vote in Bay County, cutting the margins for Republicans everywhere, but our neighbors to the east voted in remarkable numbers and ended up doing their part in democracy despite very challenging circumstances."

All of the vote counts remained unofficial Wednesday, and the Scott-Nelson Senate race appeared destined for a recount.

“According to the New York Times, Florida’s U.S. Senate race is currently projected to be 50 percent to 50 percent. Right now, the difference between Nelson and Scott is far less than the figure at which state law mandates a recount,” Nelson’s office said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

There are still an estimated 113,000 votes to be counted, votes in areas where Nelson would be expected to win by 24.9 percent, the release said, citing news reports.

“In Florida, a candidate cannot request a recount, it is required by law if the difference in vote is less than one-half-a-percent of the total vote, or in this case, about 40,500 votes," the release said.

Nelson’s campaign claimed Scott’s lead had shrunk from more than 60,000 votes to 30,163 by Wednesday afternoon.