Castor loses in close U.S. Senate race

Mel Martinez became the first Cuban-American elected to a U.S. Senate seat Wednesday. Democratic candidate Betty Castor conceded to Martinez late Wednesday afternoon after realizing she could not overcome the 81,000-vote difference.

The result of the election was close, but Castor said in a press conference that she doesn’t think she could get that many votes from the absentee ballots still left uncounted.

“This is as close as it gets, in my humble estimation,” Castor said Wednesday. “It’s not completely over, but realistically, truthfully, it would be very difficult to make up the difference.”

With 49 percent of the vote, Martinez had announced his victory late Tuesday night, but Castor, with 48 percent, did not officially concede until the following day.

“This is not a night for lawyers,” Martinez said. “I won. It’s over.”

When Castor conceded on Wednesday, Martinez, former Housing Secretary of the George W. Bush administration, said he was glad she did not drag out the race.

“I appreciated her willingness to let this campaign come to a conclusion,” he said at a news conference in Orlando. “It showed a great deal of concern for the people of Florida.”

Castor, former state education commissioner and USF president, said she would not fight a legal battle with Martinez.

“We would like to have every vote counted in this election,” she said. “However, even if every vote is counted we don’t think it would be any different.”

The race for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Graham often used negative ads, as Martinez targeted Castor’s position during in the Sami Al-Arian case while she was USF’s president. Castor’s anti-Martinez ad responded to the accusations, and her campaign later involved ads that targeted President George W. Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as Al-Arian’s allies.

The two campaigns, with significantly different platforms, went into Election Day with chances of winning split across the state. The result was not eligible for an automatic machine recount — to do so, the margin of victory had to be one-half of one percent or less.

Officials from neither the Castor nor Martinez campaigns returned phone calls Wednesday night.

Edwin J. Benton, a USF political science professor, said Martinez’s connections with the president and Gov. Jeb Bush helped his campaign and the president’s.

“They fed off each other,” Benton said.

Benton added that the reason he thinks Castor conceded and decided not to begin any legal battles was because she didn’t want to take the voters for a ride, as happened in 2000.

“She saw that she just could not mathematically win,” Benton said.

Information from the Associated Press and Stefanie Green contributed this report.