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Ag. Comm. Race Not Over Yet - Candidates Fried And Caldwell Are Headed For A Recount

The Florida Roundup
Matt Caldwell, left, beat out opponent Nikki Fried, right, by less than one percentage point.

This post was updated with new information at 12:00 p.m., Nov. 7, 2018.

In the race to be Florida's next Commissioner of Agriculture, at first it looked like Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell narrowly beat out Democratic candidate Nikki Fried.

Caldwell had claimed victory at his election watch party in North Fort Myers. 

But now, the race is too close to call and will be going into a manual recount.

After 11:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, just over than 12,000 votes separated the candidates. That means Fried and Caldwell are 0.16 percent apart.

Florida law mandates that ballots go to automatic recount if 0.5 percent of the votes, or less, separates the candidates. A manual recount is required when less than 0.25 percent of the votes separates candidates.

Wednesday Fried Tweeted, "We are going to ensure that every vote is counted, in a race this close, everyones' voices must be heard so the will of the people is upheld."

Caldwell, 37, billed himself throughout his campaigning as a "Constitutional Conservative" fighting "Washington bureaucrats." 

In the primary election, Caldwell beat out three other candidates and took home 34 percent of the Republican vote. He has since come under fire for supporting legislation that would slow efforts to combat toxic algal blooms by reducing nutrients in the water flowing to Lake Okeechobee.

Fried, 40, was born and raised in Miami, and argued during her campaign that Florida's next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services doesn't have to have a background in farming.

The Department handles not just the citrus industry statewide but also regulates everything from gas pumps to pawn shops. It's also the office responsible for concealed-weapons licenses.

Fried beat out two other candidates for the party nomination - the first woman do to so - and took home 58 percent of the Democratic vote. 

A poll conducted by St. Pete Polls during the last days of early voting showed the race in a dead heat, with Fried leading Caldwell in the race by less than one percentage point, well within the margin of error. Caldwell had a significant fundraising advantage during the campaign, raising $1.6 million compared to just over $1 million for Fried.

Read More: Agriculture Commissioner Candidates Discuss Medical Marijuana, Guns

Fried ran her campaign mainly on a platform of widening access and deregulating medical cannabis. Specifically, she wanted the office to take over responsibility for medical marijuana from the state's Department of Health. 

Fried's stance on marijuana complicated her campaign finances. Earlier in her run, the banks Wells Fargo and BB&T each shut down her campaign accounts due to contributions from the medical marijuana industry. While medical marijuana is legal in Florida, it remains illegal at the federal level, and banks are subject to many federal regulations.

Fried - a licensed gun owner - had pledged to audit the background check process for gun licenses.

In June an investigation found that the current Commissioner of Agriculture office, under Adam Putnam, did not review background check information before granting tens of thousands of concealed-weapons permits. Fried vowed to move the licensing process to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

Caldwell, who is endorsed by the National Riffle Association, also pledged to re-examine the process for getting a concealed-weapons license.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.