By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida's bitter races for the U.S. Senate and governor appeared headed to recounts on Friday as Republican margins of victory narrowed and President Donald Trump vowed to send in lawyers in a scene reminiscent of the state's dramatic 2000 presidential recount.
With his lead dwindling in Florida's Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott filed lawsuits late on Thursday against Democratic election supervisors in two counties, accusing them of mishandling the ballot counts and failing to follow election law.
Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson's campaign also filed a motion in federal court for a temporary restraining order to block Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Republican appointed by Scott, from rejecting ballots due to potential mismatches between the signature on record and that on the ballot.
Trump accused election officials in the two Florida counties of corruption, without providing any evidence, and cast doubt on the entire process. Trump said he was sending lawyers to heavily Democratic Broward County in Florida.
"All of a sudden they are finding votes out of nowhere," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding that he believes Scott won the race "by a comfortable margin."
Nelson's lawsuit, filed on Thursday, also seeks to extend the Saturday deadline for county canvassing boards to submit their unofficial results.
"As this canvass process plays out, this is going to continue to tighten," Marc Elias, Nelson's lawyer, told reporters on Friday.
The two Florida contests, along with the races for governor in Georgia and U.S. Senate in Arizona, are the most high-profile contests still to be decided after Tuesday's midterm congressional elections.
The accusations and lawsuits in the political battleground of Florida conjured memories of the state's 2000 presidential recount, when the winner of the White House hung in the balance for weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the counting and Republican George W. Bush triumphed over Democrat Al Gore.
In Tuesday's elections, Democrats won a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives after eight years in the minority, while Republicans expanded their two-seat advantage in the U.S. Senate.
Another cluster of House races with votes still being counted could add to the size of the Democrats' new majority, strengthening their hand as they seek to counter Trump's policies.
ARIZONA SENATE RACE STILL CLOSE
The U.S. Senate race in Arizona between two U.S. congresswomen, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally, appeared days away from a final call with hundreds of thousands of ballots yet to be tallied. Sinema held a slight lead over McSally.
In Georgia, where Republican Brian Kemp declared victory in the governor's contest on Wednesday with a narrow lead, campaign officials for Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams have vowed to pursue litigation to ensure all votes are counted.
Abrams is vying to become the first black woman elected to serve as governor of a U.S. state. The Georgia contest drew attention because of Kemp's role as the state's top election official and allegations by voting rights groups and Democrats that he used his position to suppress minority votes. He denied the charge.
In the Florida Senate race, Scott's lead has been steadily shrinking since the polls closed on Tuesday. On Friday morning, Nelson trailed by around 15,000 votes, or 0.18 percent, below the state's 0.25 percent threshold for a hand recount.
Elias said Democrats historically tend to pick up votes in recounts, especially hand recounts. The lawsuit filed by Nelson and Democrats notes that "thousands of eligible Florida voters" could see their rights violated under the state's signature-matching requirements, citing research suggesting that ballots submitted by black and young voters are disproportionately rejected using that standard.
"We will take all the necessary steps in court to ensure that Senator Nelson's interests are protected," Elias told reporters.
Scott's lawsuits accuse Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher of mishandling the ballot count and preventing observers from having full access as votes are counted. Snipes and Bucher did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Scott also said he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.
"I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election," Scott told reporters.
In the Florida governor's race, Republican Ron DeSantis' lead had winnowed to about 36,000 votes on Friday, or 0.44 percent of the vote. The state conducts an electronic recount when the margin falls below 0.5 percent.
Democrat Andrew Gillum's campaign said it was prepared for any outcome, including a recount.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)