TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida finally appeared to go for President Barack Obama on Thursday, ending an entirely academic exercise in which the state was decided almost two days after Obama won re-election.
Unofficial returns on the Florida Division of Elections website showed the Democratic incumbent clinging to a lead of slightly more than 58,000 votes over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Even without Florida's 29 electoral votes, which were viewed as essential for any Romney win, Obama had already carried enough states to claim the presidency.
Still, Democrats touted a final victory after one of their strongest elections in years. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson won re-election while the party gained seats in Congress and both chambers of the Legislature, though Republicans continue to hold commanding majorities in state government.
Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith issued a statement congratulating Obama for winning the state.
"Florida Democrats ran the strongest, largest ground game this state has ever seen: out-registering Republicans for eight consecutive months, cutting the GOP's historical absentee ballot advantage in half, requesting over a million Democratic absentee ballots for the first time in history, and out-pacing Republicans during every day of early voting, and this hard work has paid off," Smith said.
Meanwhile, Romney Florida adviser Brett Doster told The Miami Herald in a statement that the campaign had lost Florida.
"We thought based on our polling and range of organization that we had done what we needed to win," Doster said. "Obviously, we didn't, and for that I and every other operative in Florida has a sick feeling that we left something on the table. I can assure you this won't happen again."
Brian Burgess, communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, essentially conceded defeat.
"We're obviously not happy with the result, but given the wave that we saw all over the country, we're glad that we gave them enough of a fight in Florida to prolong the battle here as long as we did," Burgess said in an email. "But we're not looking back, we're looking forward to building a stronger coalition of Floridians who believe America can do much better than what we've seen over the last four years."
The odyssey of Florida's electoral votes began shortly after the polls officially closed. Some voters in Miami-Dade County waited in line until after 1 a.m. Wednesday -- after several networks had called the race for Obama. Obama had already claimed 303 electoral votes before Thursday's announcement, more than the 270 needed to win re-election.