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Cuban American Wins Florida Senate Race


In the U.S. state of Florida, Republican Mel Martinez has become the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Senate. Mr. Martinez won a close race against his Democratic challenger, Betty Castor, who conceded on Wednesday after concluding she did not expect the results to change after absentee ballots are counted in the race.

In a bitter and hard fought campaign, Mel Martinez won the race to succeed Florida's senior senator Bob Graham, who is retiring after a 40-year career in politics.

The race was extremely close. By the time all absentee ballots are counted on Thursday, final results are expected show Mr. Martinez winning the race by a margin of just over one percent out of more than seven million votes cast statewide.

Mr. Martinez is President Bush's former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He came to the United States from Cuba as a 15-year-old political refugee. Speaking Wednesday in his hometown of Orlando, Mr. Martinez said he would try and begin his senate career by reconciling Florida voters after a bitter campaign.

"I want to begin by letting you know that I plan to be the Senator of all of Florida," he said. "That I plan to represent all Floridians, Republicans Democrats and Independents and those who voted for me and those whose trust I have yet to earn."

Had she won, Betty Castor, a popular former state education commissioner, would have been the first Democratic woman and only the second woman to win a senate seat in Florida. Ms. Castor said she decided to concede to spare Florida voters a nasty recount fight.

"We would like to have every vote counted in this race," she said. "However, even if every vote is counted we think it would be very difficult to make up the difference."

Florida's popular Republican Governor, Jeb Bush, the brother of the president, says Mr. Martinez was helped by strong support for President George Bush who won Florida by more than 300,000 votes, winning more than 52 percent of the vote. Governor Bush told reporters on Wednesday that President Bush and the Republican Party worked extremely hard to get out their supporters on Tuesday.

"The conventional wisdom that somehow a high turnout would hurt Republicans and hurt the president I just never believed," said Mr. Bush. "The level of energy among volunteers and the enthusiasm and interest in this campaign is something I have never seen before. We out registered the Democrats over the last four years. So that helped, plus President Bush has been darn good for Florida."

Governor Bush said Floridians especially appreciated the President's quick mobilization of federal aid to help Floridians begin their recovery from four hurricanes that struck the state in August and September.

Governor Bush says President Bush and Senator-elect Mel Martinez helped each other in different parts of the state, with Mr. Bush helping Mr. Martinez in Florida's western panhandle region, and Mr. Martinez helping Mr. Bush in the Miami area, by motivating Cuban-Americans to vote in larger than expected numbers.