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Trump wins Florida on back of white votes, rural and suburban (UPDATED)

Republican Party suffers losses in Congress as Democrat Darren Soto is state's first Puerto Rican to be elected. Medical marijuana and solar advocates also winners.
8 Nov 2016 – 11:31 PM EST
Florida has 29 electoral college votes Crédito: Univision

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won his biggest prize of the night when he picked up Florida in a typically close race for the state's crucial 29 electoral votes.

Trump's populist anti-establishment message carried the day over Democrat and political insider Hillary Clinton by about 114,000 votes (1.2 percent) out of more than 9 million ballots cast.

By the time the battle was over in Florida before midnight it was still too early to call the national presidential race, though winning Florida appeared likely to propel Trump to victory.

Exit polls showed Trump winning the white vote in rural and so-called "ex-urban" regions - semi-rural outer-suburbs - in north and central Florida by such wide margins he was able to offset larger turnout for Democrat Hillary Clinton in urban areas, especially in South Florida.

Trump won the white vote 64-33 percent, while Clinton locking up Latinos and African Americans by wide margins.

Clinton also won the two largest urban counties in South Florida - Miami-Dade and Broward - by a combined 574,000 votes. The margin in Miami-Dade was 64-34 per cent, and in Broward it was 66.5 - 31.5 percent.

"Her margins in the urban areas are basically records. His margins in exurban areas are basically records. It is a pretty crazy map here," tweeted Democrat strategist Steven Schale.

"This is pretty remarkable," he added, noting that in 41 of 67 counties in Florida, Trump's share of the vote was better than any Republican has achieved since George W. Bush won the state by a razon-thin margin of 537 votes in 2000.

Exit poll data showed Trump also won voters aged 45 and above by 57-42 percent, who made up 60 percent of the Florida electorate on Tuesday. Clinton won among voters aged 18-44 by 56-37 percent, but they made up only 40 percent of the electorate. He also won the male vote 51-47 percent, while Clinton equaled that margin with female voters.

According to pollster and political scientist, Eduardo Gamarra, three factors helped Trump mobilize white voters: fear of immigrants and terrorism; his hopeful message of "make America great again," and a desire to punish the current political establishment. "In Florida, the white, rural vote is very fearful because they have to deal with immigrants close up on a daily basis," he explained.

Rubio re-elected

Six months after he dropped out of the Republican Party presidential primary Marco Rubio was comfortably re-elected to the United States Senate on Tuesday by a landslide.

His Democratic rival, the Miami-born Palm Beach County congressman, Patrick Murphy, struggled with name recognition during the campaign against the Cuban-American political veteran who is a household name across the country.

Hillary Clinton's good standing with Hispanic voters helped lift Murphy who led Rubio 50-44 with Latino voters, according to a Univision pre-election poll. But that was below Clinton, who led Trump 60-30 among Hispanics, the same poll found.

Rubio was helped by support in South Florida’s large Cuban American community where many Republicans who rejected Donald Trump still kept faith with their local boy.

Rubio was attacked during the campaign for his poor attendance record during six years in the Senate, as well as his endorsement of Trump, albeit lukewarm.

With 95 percent of ballots counted, Rubio was leading Murphy 52 percent to 44 percent.

Noting the sharp divisions and harsh words that marked the campaign, both locally and nationally, Rubio sounded an optimistic tone at a Miami victory party. “America is going to be OK. We will turn this country around. I have faith. I know God is not done with America yet,” Rubio said.

Avoiding mention of either Trump or Clinton he went on: “while we can disagree on issues, we cannot share a country where people hate each other because of their political affiliations. We cannot move forward as a nation if we cannot have enlightened debates about tough issues.”

Rubio supporters see him as a future contender for higher office in the decade ahead despite taking a battering on the national stage during the bruising Republican primary.

"I don't think Trump's attacks will carry over," said Angel Posada, a 38-year-old corrections officer who's been volunteering for Rubio's campaigns since the junior senator first sought a house seat.

Yet a handful of supporters who broke with party lines on the top of the ticket also voiced concerns regarding the future of the Republican Party following Trump's scorched-earth campaign that began fracturing when the primaries began about two years ago.

"I voted for Hillary," said consultant David Puentes, 27. He flew in from his home in Austin, Texas, specifically to attend Rubio's election party in hopes of setting the foundation of a future campaign would bring alienated minorities back under the Republican tent.

"Coming from an immigrant family I couldn't align myself with a lot of the things Trump said," Puentes said. "I've been working for the Republican Party since I was 19 and this isn't my Republican Party."

Republicans suffer congressional setbacks

The traditional Republican stranglehold of the Cuban American vote in Miami was also under threat in one congressional race, a rematch between incumbent Carlos Curbelo and his Democratic challenger former congressman Joe Garcia. Both Cuban Americans, Curbelo ousted Garcia in 2014, and repeated the feat on Tuesday with relative ease.

Curbelo, a moderate Republican, was one of the first members of his party in Congress to announce he could not vote for Trump.

Elsewhere across the state, Democrats picked up three of the state’s 27 congressional seats, all in central Florida’s I-4 corridor.

Darren Soto, the state’s first congressman from Puerto Rico, was elected on the back of a surge in voters from the island commonwealth.

In Tampa Bay, on Florida’s west coast, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who switched parties from Republican to Democrat, was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time.

Crist beat incumbent Republican David Jolly after court-ordered redistricting made his Pinellas County-based district more Democratic.

Republican stalwart John Mica, who has held his seat since 1993, was beaten in the Orlando area by Democratic newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a business professor and former Department of Defense analyst.

In Miami, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican who was not supporting Trump, was re-elected Miami-Dade County mayor in another all Cuban American contest with former school board member Raquel Regalado, the daughter of Miami city mayor Tomas Regalado.

In a closely watched state Senate race, rising Democratic Party politician José Javier Rodríguez unseated another incumbent Republican, Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.

Solar and marijuana amendments

In a victory for renewable energy advocates, voters defeated a controversial constitutional amendment backed by Florida's largest utilities. Amendment 1 purported to expand solar energy, but opponents argued it would actually limit the growth of customer-owned solar power in the Sunshine State. Utility companies spent $26 million to back the amendment, which was defeated with 51% of the vote.

State law requires a supermajority of support — 60 percent or higher.

Florida is currently one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to solar power generated. Today in Florida, less than a tenth of one percent of energy is being generated by solar.

Another amendment to legalize medical marijuana was passed. Some 71% of Florida voters backed Amendment 2, which fell short of approval on the 2014 ballot.

(This article was updated with latest presidential voting results.)