By Bernie Woodall
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - Rick Scott, Florida's outgoing governor, was declared the winner on Sunday of his hard-fought U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson following a hand recount of ballots, giving Republicans control of both of the state's Senate seats for the first time since the 19th century.
In the recount of the Nov. 6 election, Scott won by 10,033 votes out of 8.19 million cast statewide, Florida elections officials said. Scott took 50.05 percent, compared to 49.93 percent for Nelson, they added.
A three-term senator first elected to the chamber in 2000, Nelson, 76, telephoned Scott, 65, to concede the race, then issued a statement voicing worry about "a gathering darkness" in American politics in recent years. Republicans including President Donald Trump made allegations, without offering evidence, that the recount process was marred by fraud.
Scott's victory gave the Republicans 52 seats in the 100-member Senate. In Mississippi, Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy will compete in a Nov. 27 runoff election after neither won a majority in their U.S. Senate race.
Nelson became the latest incumbent Democratic senator toppled in the midterm congressional election in which the Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives.
Other defeated incumbent Democratic senators included Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.
Republicans will hold both Senate seats from Florida, the third most-populous U.S. state and a regular battleground in presidential races, for the first time since 1875, during the post-Civil War period.
The recount process was just as contentious as the campaign itself, with the candidates filing lawsuits and leveling allegations at one another including Scott saying Nelson was trying to "steal" the election. Even before the recount process was completed and he had not yet been deemed the victor, Scott appeared last week in Washington at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcoming newly elected Republican senators.
'GET TO WORK'
"I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service," Scott said in an emailed statement.
The statement ended, "Let's get to work."
In his own recorded statement, Nelson lamented the tone of American politics in recent years and hoped for "a safe and sane future." He took what seemed to be a veiled swipe at Trump.
"We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy; where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and the free press is assaulted as the 'enemy of the people,'" Nelson said.
Trump said on Twitter, "From day one Rick Scott never wavered. He was a great Governor and will be even a greater Senator in representing the People of Florida."
Scott, who was prevented by state law from running for a third term as governor, initially emerged from the election with an official lead of less than 0.5 percentage points, which prompted a recount.
The Florida Senate battle and the race to replace Scott as governor were closely watched contests Democrats had hoped to win. On Saturday, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican rival Ron DeSantis, an ally of Trump, in the governor's race, which also had gone to a recount.
Scott entered politics from the business world, having amassed a personal fortune as a healthcare executive. He dipped into his wealth to help finance his campaigns, winning the governorship in 2010 and 2014.
Nelson has been a fixture in Florida politics since he won a seat in the state legislature in 1972. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives and has held state Cabinet posts.
Scenes of thousands of people across the state reviewing ballots during the recount process had brought back memories of Florida's 2000 presidential recount, which ended only after the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, effectively handing the presidency to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Will Dunham and Chris Reese)