ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Attorney General Charlie Crist, who promised to move forward with Gov. Jeb Bush's economic and education policies, defeated Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Davis Tuesday night to keep the governor's seat in Republican hands.
Crist promised to reduce property taxes and homeowners insurance, make the state safer from violent criminals and to improve schools, all without partisan politics.
"Tonight we all come together as one, not as Republicans, not as Democrats or independents, but as one," told hundreds of supporters just after 11 p.m. "No group is above another. Each Floridian will have a voice in all that we do and I will serve every Floridian with all of my heart."
With 94 percent of the expected vote counted, Crist had 52.6 percent of the vote, compared to 44.7 for Davis. The Associated Press called the race for Crist at 10 p.m., but Crist refused to acknowledge his victory until Davis called an hour later.
Once Davis did, Crist hugged supporters and family in his hotel suite.
"It's a team effort, Jeff," he said to running mate Rep. Jeff Kottkamp. "Thank God. It will be fun."
Bush congratulated his successor.
"I am very happy for General Crist," he said. "I know he will be a fine governor."
Crist ran a campaign toward the political middle and used his charm, friendly demeanor and record of helping people over business to appeal to voters in a year that was seen as a difficult election for Republicans.
Davis call for change wasn't answered. He repeatedly criticized Republican policies, but he also lacked the money and recognition to compete against Crist. Crist raised $19.6 million for the race, compared to Davis' $6.7 million.
"We came close to pulling off a political miracle," Davis said. "There was more money spent against me in this campaign than any campaign in the history of the state of Florida. And we came very close. We didn't quite get there. But the fight will continue."
Davis congratulated Crist.
"I know he will rise to the occasion," Davis said. "But he will need our help."
Crist was buttressed by Bush's strong approval rating, according to exit polls. Crist carried Bush's white, Christian, conservative base. He finished slightly ahead of Davis among voters 18-65 — who made up about three of every four voters. Crist also finished slightly ahead among college graduates. Men favored Crist while women were about even.
Davis earned strong support from liberals and blacks. He also won the non-Cuban Hispanic vote and the Jewish vote.