By David Adams and Letitia Stein
MIAMI (Reuters) - Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida narrowly won re-election on Tuesday, defeating Democrat Charlie Crist in an expensive contest in which turnout was low in Crist's south Florida stronghold.
Scott, 61, addressed supporters in Bonita Springs on the southwest coast after receiving a phone call from Crist and called for unity after a bitter race. “It’s time to put all the division behind us and come together. Forget the partisanship,” Scott said.
"Florida is on a mission, and that is to keep growing," he added, vowing to make Florida the nation's No. 1 job creator.
Crist, 58, emerged soon after in St Petersburg echoing Scott's call to bury the hatchet. "What is most important is that we come together as a state," he said.
In a good night for Republicans, they also comfortably held on to all statewide posts of attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner, as well as solid majorities in both houses of the legislature, according to official results with 99 percent of precincts counted.
A constitutional amendment to expand the legalization of medical marijuana was narrowly defeated, according to the state Division of Elections.
There was some solace for environmentalists who had strongly backed Crist, with approval by a stunning 75 to 25 percent margin of an amendment to protect the environment through water and land conservation. The measure is projected to raise billions of dollars over the next 20 years from real estate taxes.
In north Florida, Democrat Gwen Graham, daughter of former senator and state governor Bob Graham, narrowly ousted Republican Steve Southerland. But Republicans got sweet revenge in south Florida, where one-term Democrat Joe Garcia lost to Carlos Curbelo in an all-Cuban-American clash.
In the governor's race, Scott won by 1.3 percentage points, or 77,000 votes out of almost 6 million cast.
Crist, Florida's former Republican governor who was seeking the job back as a Democrat, notably failed to get the large turnout in urban Democratic strongholds of south Florida, while Scott fared better with rural voters in the north and central areas of the state, according to official results.
Turnout was 50 percent statewide, but in heavily Democratic Broward County in south Florida, which Crist won by a wide margin, it was only 43.5 percent. In Miami-Dade County, where Crist also won handily, it was a feeble 40.5 percent.
The two candidates disagreed on almost every issue, from same-sex marriage and medical marijuana to Cuba policy and raising the minimum wage.
Voters endured some 190,000 mostly negative television ads costing more than $95 million according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, more than any other governor's race in the country.
Crist accused Scott of being “out of touch” with working Floridians, while Republicans painted Crist as an opportunist who left the party to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2010 before becoming a Democrat in 2012.
(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami Beach and Barbara Liston in Orlando; Editing by Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)