A progressive Democratic candidate backed by Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and George Soros won a shock victory in Florida’s Democratic primary Tuesday — setting up a showdown against a Trump-backed Republican for governor of the key swing state.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum lagged in fourth place in the Real Clear Politics polling average ahead of the vote. With five days to go, Gillum was six points behind former Rep. Gwen Graham — daughter of former governor and former Sen. Bob Graham — the favorite for the nomination.
In the end, Gillum won 34 percent of the vote, with Graham securing 31 percent.
While Gillum is more qualified than most of the progressive candidates running under Sanders’ “Our Revolution” banner, he was also the only non-millionaire in the race and had raised substantially less cash than his opponents.
But with a late influx of funding from Steyer and Soros, the 39-year-old pulled off a remarkable victory that could ease Democratic fears that both the youth vote and the African-American vote could sit out the midterms.
“I believe what is going to deliver us to victory in November is the fact that there are everyday hardworking people who believe that they deserve a voice in our government too,” Gillum told supporters following the win.
Gillum is the first black Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Florida history and he would become the state’s first black governor if he wins in November.
He is running on a very progressive platform that includes:
- A hike in the state’s corporate tax rate to fund education.
- Raising the state’s minimum wage to $15.
- A national Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system.
- The abolition of ICE following the family separation crisis.
- Legalizing marijuana.
Along with the June victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district, Gillum’s win is a major boost for the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
And in Georgia, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams is similarly trying to make history by becoming the first African-American elected governor of Georgia, the first woman governor of the state, and the first black female governor anywhere in the U.S. Democrats also nominated Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP, for governor of Maryland.
Gillum will face Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Trump-backed Republican, making the vote in Florida a key test of the political atmosphere in the country this fall. Trump tweeted his support for DeSantis Wednesday, and decried his November opponent as a "failed socialist mayor." Gillum was quick to respond.
DeSantis, also 39, defeated Adam Putnam, who had entered the race as the establishment favorite and who raised significantly more money than his rival. However, the president’s numerous Twitter endorsements likely pushed DeSantis over the line.
DeSantis has done his best to keep Trump onside, including releasing an ad in which he teaches his children how to build a wall and shows him reading Trump’s ghostwritten book “The Art of the Deal” to his young son.
Republicans have controlled the governor’s mansion in Florida for the last two decades but election forecasters say that the race between Gillum and DeSantis is too close to call.
Cover image: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum celebrates his victory with supporters during his election watch party at Hotel Duval. (Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via USA TODAY NETWORK)