'A lot of crooked stuff going on,' Trump says as Republicans' lead shrinks in Florida

President Donald Trump talks with reporters before departing for France on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

With two midterm election races in Florida likely headed toward recounts, President Trump on Friday suggested the federal government could intervene and vowed to expose what he described as a conspiracy to benefit Democrats.

“There’s a lot of crooked stuff going on, Trump told reporters on the South Lawn before departing on a trip to France. “All of the sudden they’re finding votes out of nowhere.”

On Thursday, the two top races in the state, for governor and senator, appeared headed for a recount. According to state law, if less than 0.5 percent of the total vote separates the candidates, a recount is mandatory. If the difference is less than 0.25 percent the recount must be conducted by hand rather than machine. 

In the Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, is ahead of incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson by 0.18 percent. In the race for governor, former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis leads Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.44 percent. 

According to the Miami Herald, thousands of ballots remain uncounted, including in the Democratic stronghold of Broward County, where officials have yet to disclose early voting and absentee totals. Since Tuesday, officials in the county have added to the number of ballots received, triggering a firestorm among Republicans, including the president, intent on preserving modest gains in the Senate. 

“If you look at Broward County, they have had a horrible history,” Trump said. “And Rick Scott, who won by, you know it’s close, but he won by a comfortable margin … He easily won, but every hour [his lead] seems to be going down. I think people have to look at it very, very cautiously.”

Trump endorsed and campaigned heavily for both Scott and DeSantis.

Attorney Marc Elias has been hired by Sen. Bill Nelson’s campaign in Florida. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Nelson campaign has hired veteran election-law attorney Marc Elias to navigate what is sure to prove a highly contentious recount process reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election battle in the state between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. 

“A significant number of ballots have not yet been counted and, because of the size of Florida, we believe the results of the election are unknown and require a recount,” Elias said in a statement Wednesday.

The Scott campaign called Elias a “hired gun from Washington, D.C., who will try to win an election for Nelson that Nelson has already lost,”  in an email Thursday. The soon-to-be-former governor has also called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the election, and echoed the president on the effort by Democrats to prevent the race from being called. 

“No rag tag group of liberal activists or lawyers from D.C. will be allowed to steal this election from the voters in the state of Florida,” Scott tweeted Friday.

The night before, however, Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed lawsuits of his own against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties, alleging that the supervisors are hiding information on the number of votes that have been cast and counted there.

As the margin that separates the Senate candidates continues to narrow, Nelson contends that his campaign simply seeks an accurate accounting of how votes were cast in the midterm.

“The goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately,” Nelson tweeted Thursday. “Rick Scott’s action appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation.”

Elias also challenged Scott over his call for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Democratic officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

“This is not a third-world dictatorship,” Elias said. “We don’t let people seize ballots when they think they’re losing.”

Florida election officials have until Saturday to count the votes and assess whether a recount is mandated.

Aboard Air Force One late Friday morning, Trump said he would also mount a legal challenge. 

“As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes,” the president tweeted. “Don’t worry, Florida – I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!”

The president also floated conspiratorial claims about vote counting in Arizona and Georgia, where races for U.S. Senate and governor are also inching toward possible recounts that would threaten what the president described at a Wednesday news conference as a “big victory” in the Senate midterms for Republicans. That may explain why Trump spent much of Friday on Twitter.

“You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday?” Trump tweeted. “Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!”

Nationwide, millions of votes remain to be counted — not “found” — leaving the outcome of a number of elections still in doubt, including some where the Democrat is leading.

_____

Read more from Yahoo News: