TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who started the year declaring he wouldn't seek re-election, retained his seat Tuesday, winning a second six-year term by defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Rubio, who entered the contest in June after his White House aspirations collapsed, overcame efforts by Democrats to link him to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and to paint his re-election run as simply a step towards a 2020 presidential bid.
As of 10 p.m., Rubio had about 52 percent of the vote, while Murphy had about 44 percent, according to the state Division of Elections website.
"I am glad that I'm an American in the 21st Century," said Rubio said during a victory speech at his election night party at the Hilton Miami Airport. "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 added that the time has come for America to come together to respect its diversity behind a common dream.
"I believe with all my heart that if we do what needs to be done in the years to come that my children and yours will be the freest and most prosperous that have ever lived," Rubio said. "But we must start now. For while we still have time to get this right, we don't have forever."
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a prepared statement that voters "rewarded the senator's dedication to public service."
Murphy, a two-term member of the House, struggled to overcome massive negative attacks from national and state Republican groups. Also he faced a perceived lack of name recognition outside his Treasure Coast district and some self-inflicted wounds tied to exaggerations and explanations about his educational and professional resume.
Murphy also faced criticism even from within his party that he wasn't as strong a campaigner as they expected.
Murphy said "we put everything we had into this fight," while giving a concession speech during his election night party at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott Hotel. However, "we were expecting and hoping for a different result this evening."
After someone in the crowd shouted "recount," Murphy said "the people of Florida have spoken and at the end of the day I respect their choice."
Murphy said he called Rubio before appearing before his supporters.
The contest was one of the most-watched and most-expensive Senate campaigns in the nation, as Democrats eyed the seat as a potential step in recapturing control of the upper chamber.
In addition to the $12.48 million the Federal Elections Commission reported has been raised by Rubio's camp and $13.72 million that came into Murphy's campaign, outside groups using super PACs reportedly spent nearly $50 million more in Florida.
Murphy tried to make the race about Rubio's oft-criticized attendance record in the Senate and the future political aspirations of the former Florida House speaker.
But Rubio during a debate at the University of Central Florida rolled out a line intended to rebuff that claim, saying he will "serve in the Senate for the next six years. God willing."
Rubio, who sought to promote himself on the campaign trail as more hardline against terrorism than his Democratic challenger, entered the contest after the summer's mass murder in an Orlando nightclub by a homegrown terrorist.
D.C. insiders were also pushing Rubio to enter the contest, worrying the Republican lineup of congressmen, businessmen and Florida's lieutenant governor weren't exciting the electorate.
From that point, Rubio never trailed in any major polls.
News Service of Florida