State Rep. Matt Caldwell, a real estate appraiser from North Fort Myers, had declared victory on election night Nov. 6 as his lead was widening beyond the 0.5 percent requiring a machine recount under Florida law. | AP Photo
TALLAHASSEE — Former Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell on Monday conceded the race for state agriculture commissioner after a manual recount showed Democrat Nikki Fried the winner.
Fried, a lawyer and lobbyist for medical marijuana treatment centers, was the only Democrat to win a Florida statewide race this year and becomes the first from her party to win the elected agriculture commissioner post since Bob Crawford in 1998.
The gap between Caldwell and Fried widened on Sunday after a manual recount was completed. Caldwell lost by 6,753 votes, or 0.08 percent.
Caldwell had sued Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes over ballot-counting. But he said Monday he didn’t want to use legal loopholes to win an election, citing allegations of fraud that he said were settled in the 1960 presidential election. Snipes announced her resignation late Sunday.
"The candidates set an example for our conduct and I believe the same is true about our state," Caldwell said in a statement provided to POLITICO. "Therefore, I will no longer be pursuing a challenge to the outcome of this race. Accordingly, I have called Nikki Fried and notified her of my decision to not pursue the matter any further and I have offered to assist her in any way I can as she takes the office of commissioner."
Fried’s campaign declared victory last week for the open seat after a machine recount showed her leading by 5,307 votes. And she declared victory on Sunday after the manual recount was completed.
“This victory belongs to the people of Florida, you chose a new vision, one that reflects the priorities of the people," Fried said. "To everyone who didn’t vote for me, I will be your voice in Tallahassee too."
Caldwell, a real estate appraiser from North Fort Myers, had declared victory on election night Nov. 6 as his lead was widening beyond the 0.5 percent requiring a machine recount under Florida law.
As on election night, Caldwell on Monday cited support from his "two lane travels" campaign criss-crossing the state with stops in small towns, farms and businesses along the way.
"Every door knocked, every mile traveled and every new hand shaken in every corner of the state has emphasized the immediate and tangible needs of our state’s farmers, workers, small business owners and consumers," he said Monday.
During an Oct. 21 televised debate, Fried said the agriculture department had been beholden to the National Rifle Association, which endorsed Caldwell, and said gun licensing should be moved to a law enforcement agency.
Fried was endorsed by the Everglades Trust, the Sierra Club, Equality Florida and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Caldwell also was endorsed by agriculture groups including the Florida Farm Bureau FarmPAC along with the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.