TALLAHASSEE, FL — With less than a week to go before the November election, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has a 2.49-point lead over former Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis in the race to become Florida’s next governor and incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson enjoys a 2.3-point lead over Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the race for U.S. Senate.
Statistics released by Florida election officials on Thursday show that Republicans who voted by mail outnumber Democrats by 66,710 votes, while Democrats led Republicans in early voting by 3,173 votes.
That translates into a Republican edge of 63,537 votes if people voted according to party lines. What remains to be seen is the effect that independent voters will have on the upcoming election.
The statistics show that 370,107 people without a party affiliation voted by mail and 282,812 voted early in Florida’s election for a combined total of 652,919 votes. Another 24,121 people who cast votes either by mail or at early voting sites, listed their party affiliation as "other."
Political website RealClearPolitics rated both the Florida governor’s race and U.S. Senate race as a political "toss up" as of Thursday. The RealClearPolitics numbers are based on a statistical average of multiple polls.
Both of the state’s marquee contests have been marked by bitter name-calling and sharp political attacks with President Trump’s policies figuring prominently in the political discourse.
Trump held a rally in Estero, Florida on Wednesday night that was the first of 11 events he planned to hold across eight battlefield states ,as he tries to bolster Republican turnout and counter Democratic enthusiasm heading into Election Day.
The president implored rallygoers to vote and painted a dark picture of the stakes. He also railed against birthright citizenship, which he has threatened to end via executive order.
Former President Barack Obama is expected to campaign alongside both Gillum and Nelson on Friday at Miami’s Ice Palace Films Studios.
The Trump-endorsed Republican appeared to stumble at the start of the campaign when he told Fox News on the day following his primary win: "The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state," referring to Gillum’s liberal politics.
Those comments touched off a storm of controversy that has dogged DeSantis throughout the campaign with Gillum vying to become the state’s first black chief executive and the first Democrat in 20 years.
DeSantis says perhaps his Democratic opponent should be impeached as Tallahassee mayor over ethics questions. The Republican criticized his Democratic opponent at length during the Trump rally.
Gillum has asserted he paid his way on trips to Costa Rica and New York City, but newly released documents appear to contradict the Tallahassee mayor. At Wednesday’s rally, DeSantis supporters began chanting, "Lock him up. Lock him up."
Gillum has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing in the ethics probe, which is separate but related to an ongoing FBI investigation into city government.
The two candidates are also miles apart on issues like healthcare, gun reform, immigration, taxes, abortion, and the environment.
DeSantis pledged to stop illegal immigration into Florida by preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers and preventing communities in the state from becoming so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.
Gillum advocates what his campaign described as a compassionate immigration policy. He has promised to fight mass deportation policies "that threaten to split families and hurt Florida’s economy."
Gillum also supports the legalization of marijuana to pay for teacher and instructional staff pay increases and to reduce the mass incarceration of people with low-level drug offenses. In addition, Gillum wants to impose corporate tax levels of 7.75 percent, which would generate at least $1 billion by his estimate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum (left) and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson pictured together at a campaign rally at the University of South Florida Campus Recreation Building on Oct. 22 in Tampa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images).