TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) - Donald Trump, a real-estate mogul who won the Republican presidential nomination in part by knocking off two of Florida's favored sons, appeared to be on track to win the state's 29 electoral votes Tuesday night.
With 94.4 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Trump was leading Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by a healthy margin, 49.2 percent to 47.6 percent. That represented a lead of almost 144,000 votes out of nearly 9.2 million counted.
Television networks and the Associated Press were not yet calling the race for Trump, but it was increasingly difficult to see how Clinton could make up the ground in Florida.
A win for Trump in Florida would be a sizable surprise after Democrats had banked on a surge in Hispanic voting turnout to power them to a victory. It could also upend expectations that Clinton would be the favorite nationwide, as a victory in the Sunshine State was an almost necessary condition for a Trump win.
"Take it to the bank. (Trump) wins FL," Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster in Florida who worked with the Trump campaign, wrote on Twitter as the night wore on.
Even Democrats conceded that the state was beginning to look lost.
More so perhaps than the results were the surprising ways in which they shaped up. Trump narrowly won Duval County in Northeast Florida, a Republican stronghold that the GOP typically needs to win handily for statewide victories. And as expected, Clinton did well in the Southeast part of the state, winning by crushing margins in counties like Broward and Miami-Dade.
But Trump also did well in other corners of the state. In Pasco County, he crushed Clinton by 21.4 percentage points. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney defeated Democratic President Barack Obama in Pasco County by about 6.5 points.
In nearby Pinellas County, Trump was leading Clinton, 48.1 percent to 46.9 percent, with all precincts reporting. Four years ago, Obama beat Romney in Pinellas County by about 5.5 points.
"This is pretty remarkable --- in 41 counties in Florida, Trump's share is better than the best share that any R has gotten since 2000," wrote Democratic strategist Steve Schale in a post on Twitter.
The results came at the tail end of a contest in which both sides had sought to portray early voting results as tilted in their favor. Republicans noted that Democrats' early-voting edge was not as robust in 2016 as it was when Obama narrowly defeated Romney four years earlier.
Democrats countered by saying that Hispanic turnout was heavy. Trump had begun his campaign by slamming illegal immigrants from Mexico and promised to build a border fence meant to stem migration across the United States' southern frontier.
Trump's primary victory also shook parts of the GOP establishment. While the Republican Party of Florida threw its support behind Trump after he clinched the nomination and Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi were strong supporters, other Republican leaders were less enthusiastic.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost to Trump before winning re-election to his Senate seat on Tuesday, was lukewarm in his backing for the nominee. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who had been one of Trump's sharpest critics during the nomination fight, was largely mum on his intentions after dropping out of the presidential primary.