Republican Gov. Rick Scott struggled to maintain his popularity among Floridians during his four-year term, but it proved just enough to hold off a fierce challenge from former governor Charlie Crist.
After one of the toughest, and most costly, gubernatorial elections in Florida history, Scott beat Crist – the former Republican governor of the state now running as a Democrat – to earn four more years in the governor's mansion.
Floridians cited a wide range of reasons for casting their vote in Tuesday's gubernatorial election, from the state's improving economy to spending on education to the prospects of medicinal marijuana.
But in the end, it came down to who they wanted to keep out of the governor's mansion rather than who they wanted in it.
"The economy's coming back, so you gotta give (Scott) some credit for that," said Mark Wardrum, 50, a St. Petersburg high school math teacher. "But really, he's just better than Charlie Crist. That's about it."
"Crist has done good things for education, for the elderly," said Robert Marteli, 33, a Tampa restaurant manager. "But my vote was more of a referendum on Rick Scott. (Crist) is the lesser of two evils."
The race to control the fourth-largest state in the country proved to be one of the most contentious, negative races this year, with more than $93 million spent on TV advertisements by both sides, according to the Center for Public Integrity. And with so much of that campaigning skewing negative, both candidates had more voters holding an unfavorable view of them than favorable, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Sunday.
Despite that animosity, some voters broke through the negativity and focused on the stark policy differences between the two men.
Mary Diamond said the $1.3 billion in K-12 education cuts Scott instituted his first year in office made her vote for Crist an easy one. Diamond, a St. Petersburg high school teacher, said her salary has increased a total of $600 over Scott's four-year tenure. And even though she's retiring in the next couple of years, she worried about what four more years under Scott will do to her younger colleagues.
"I wouldn't be a teacher in this environment," Diamond said. "(Crist) has a better feeling for education."
The state's economy was a central one throughout the campaign, with Scott touting 650,000 private-sector jobs created under his tenure and Crist boasting about using federal stimulus funds to save 20,000 education jobs during the worst of the global financial crisis.
Jarrod Pregmon is trying to expand his fledgling business waterproofing house decks and he feels Scott's policies will be more helpful to him. "I don't think Charlie Crist would understand what it takes to get a business going," said Pregmon, 35, of West Tampa. "At least (Scott) has written a payroll check."
Others, like St. Petersburg contractor Sam Adams, said his vote was based mostly on the minimum wage. Crist has said he supports raising it from the current $7.93 to $10.10, something Scott has said would hurt Florida job creators. "Not everyone's going to college, more parents are having kids younger, so it would really help them," said Adams, 25.
In the end, Florida voters, who know both candidates very well from their terms as governor, voted on who they trust more. Stephanie Melnick, 48, said she chose Scott because she couldn't get past Crist's change from a Republican governor to an Independent Senate candidate to a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. "I prefer predictability," said Melnick, a Tampa business consultant. "Say what you mean, mean what you say."
For Joseph Molea, Crist's "evolution" has been a positive, showing Crist's unwillingness to be trapped by the hyperpartisan gridlock that's strangling American politics. "He remains his own man and is able to shrug off all the influence of his party," said Molea, 59, a health care consultant in Tampa.