Andrew Gillum Wins Democratic Nomination For Florida Governor

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on August 29th, 2018

Tallahassee, Florida, USA: Progressive Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum has won the Florida Democratic primary for governor, defeating former Rep. Gwen Graham, the establishment favorite. He’ll face Trump-backed Rep. Ron DeSantis, who also beat an establishment-backed candidate, in November.

Gillum won the primary with 34 percent of the vote, with 87 percent of precincts reporting. Graham, the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), won 32 percent of the vote.

The come-from-behind win defied expectations and is bound to invite comparisons to the win by progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned the political world in June by defeating established Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York Democratic primary.

Most recent public polls showed Gillum in third place, trailing Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine for the Democratic nod to replace Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R).

With redistricting looming after the next census, Medicaid expansion on the line and control of a crucial presidential battleground at stake, the governor’s race was already shaping up to be a titanic showdown. But the specter of two young, hard-charging politicians who represent the beating heart of their parties — the Trump acolyte versus the black progressive — facing off will supercharge the fall campaign.

Mr. Gillum defeated four wealthy rivals who far outspent the Tallahassee mayor.

Campaigning in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood on Saturday, Mr. Gillum relished his underdog status.

“My opponents have spent, together, over $90 million in this race. We have spent four” million, he said. “Money doesn’t vote. People do.”

Gillum lagged in fundraising and was slow to launch television ads in a state where such spots have traditionally been highly valued by political campaigns.

In the final weeks of the election, Mr. Gillum aired an ad trumpeting his support for universal health care, legalizing marijuana and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He is also a vocal advocate of impeaching Mr. Trump.

In the final weeks before the Tuesday primary, Gillum won the endorsement of Sanders, who campaigned alongside the Tallahassee mayor in Tampa and Orlando.

He also brought in other high-profile surrogates, including Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who rose to fame during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Gillum also earned a number of high-profile celebrity endorsements, ranging from actor Alec Baldwin to Jane Fonda, and received financial backing from Democratic mega-donors Tom Steyer and George Soros.

Gillum and his aides and advisers touted the mayor’s campaign as a grassroots movement that would energize progressive Democrats in November.

For too long, his campaign argued, Democrats had run middle-of-the-road candidates that failed to excite the base, effectively locking the party out of the governor’s mansion for two decades.

Like Ocasio-Cortez, Gillum run as an unabashed progressive.

The 39-year-old mayor fashioned himself as a progressive in the vein of Sanders, preaching the virtues of “Medicare for All” and a $15-per-hour minimum wage on the campaign trail.

Gillum, however, endorsed Hillary Clinton weeks ahead of the state’s 2016 presidential primary. Clinton went on to win the state handily over Sanders.

Gillum will face off against Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) in the gubernatorial election in November, pitting a progressive against a hardline conservative backed by President Trump.

His victory gives Florida voters a striking contrast in both style and substance with his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has the enthusiastic support of President Donald J. Trump.

A Miami native and former student government leader at Florida A&M University, Gillum was named one of “14 young Democrats to watch” by The New York Times two years ago.

At 39, Gillum was by far the youngest candidate in the crowded field, but the most experienced in public office. He was elected to the Tallahassee City Commission at age 23 and became mayor four years ago.

Republicans tapped Representative Ron DeSantis for governor Tuesday, setting the stage for a ferocious general election in the country’s largest swing state between one of President Trump’s most unabashed allies and an outspoken progressive who would be Florida’s first black governor.

Mr. DeSantis’s victory represented another emphatic demonstration of the president’s iron grip on the Republican Party. Mr. DeSantis steadily gained notoriety on the right, and attention in the Oval Office, last year by frequently appearing on Fox News to defend Mr. Trump.

The president took notice of the Navy veteran and praised his candidacy last December. Mr. Trump’s near-endorsement prompted a flurry of lobbying by Republicans urging him to refrain from offering his formal blessing. And among the party officials counseling restraint was Vice President Mike Pence, who served with Mr. Putnam in the House.

But Mr. Trump was grateful for Mr. DeSantis’s televised advocacy, believed the former JAG officer looked the part of a governor and had little relationship with Mr. Putnam. In June, Mr. Trump offered, as he put it on Twitter, his “full Endorsement.”

Recounting his intervention in the Florida race last week at a rally last week in West Virginia, Mr. Trump said of Mr. DeSantis: “He was at three, and I gave him a nice shot, and a nice little tweet — bing bing — and he went from three to like 20 something.”

Mr. DeSantis was almost certainly winning more than three percent of the vote when Mr. Trump weighed in, but there is little doubt that the president’s support dramatically reshaped the race.

Mr. DeSantis trumpeted the endorsement in his advertising and basked in the president’s praise when they stood together on stage in Tampa in late July.

Mr. Putnam fought back, emphasizing his deep knowledge of Florida and chiding Mr. DeSantis for his television ubiquity. The son of a citrus farming family who was elected to the state legislature when he was 22, he went on to serve in the House leadership in Washington.

“Florida’s not picking an apprentice; we’re picking a governor,” Mr. Putnam said.

Lifted by a June endorsement from Mr. Trump, Mr. DeSantis, 39, handily defeated Adam Putnam, the state agriculture commissioner and one-time favorite for the nomination.

In the House, Donna Shalala, the secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, defeated state Representative David Richardson in a Miami district Democratic primary.

She will face Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican former Spanish-language television journalist who on Tuesday bested a crowded field, including a rival who said as a child she went up on a spaceship with aliens. Democrats are expected to pick up the liberal-leaning seat, which is currently held by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a veteran Republican who is retiring.

In Orlando, Representative Darren Soto, the first Puerto Rican elected to Congress from Florida, fended off a Democratic primary challenge from former Representative Alan Grayson, a liberal firebrand who has struggled in his attempt to return to Washington.

Georgia’s Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams will now be joined by Mr. Gillum, while Georgia’s secretary of state, Brian Kemp, has a mirror to south in Mr. DeSantis.

In Arizona, Republican primary voters were going to the polls to decide a replacement for Mr. Trump’s most outspoken critic in the Senate, Jeff Flake. But the contest evolved into a test of which candidate could embrace Mr. Trump most snugly. In the Arizona governor’s primary, Democrats were deciding between an outspoken progressive and a pragmatist.

In Arizona, just three days after the death of Senator John McCain, Republicans were demonstrating how much the party had drifted from Mr. McCain’s pragmatic style of politics to Mr. Trump’s hard-line nationalism.

Each of the three candidates vying to replace Mr. Flake, who is retiring after a single term, aligned themselves with Mr. Trump.

After asking the president to stay out of the race, Representative Martha McSally, the establishment favorite who will not say how she voted in 2016, sought Mr. Trump’s endorsement earlier this month.

Ms. McSally, one of the first women to fly in combat for the Air Force, was the favorite against the other two Republicans in the race: Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, whom Mr. Trump pardoned last year, and Kelli Ward, a former state senator who garnered nearly 40 percent in a 2016 primary against Mr. McCain and sought to capitalize on his death Monday by saying “political correctness is like a cancer.”

In the governor’s race there, Democrats David Garcia and Steve Farley were running to take on Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who may be vulnerable in November.

Mr. Garcia, a former executive at the state education department, has sought to rally progressives, urging them to “imagine no wall in southern Arizona.” Mr. Farley has positioned himself as a moderate, arguing that Democrats can only win in a red-tinted state by presenting themselves as pragmatists.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is retiring, which caused several GOP candidates to jump in the race. But the victor on Tuesday was Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who won nearly 52 percent of the vote, easily defeating state senator Kelli Ward and former sheriff and convict Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio, the anti-immigration lawman who was convicted of criminal contempt last year, had been given a pardon from Trump, making him eligible to run for federal office. But that wasn’t enough for the controversial and once-popular sheriff, who received just under 20 percent of Republican votes on Tuesday.

McSally will now face fellow congresswoman, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who won her party’s primary with 81 percent.

In the state’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey decisively fended off challenger Ken Bennett with 70 percent of the vote. He will go on to face Democrat David Garcia, who won his party’s nomination with nearly 50 percent.

In Oklahoma, Republicans nominated Tulsa business executive Kevin Stitt in the runoff for governor, spurning former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who was attacked for being insufficiently supportive of Mr. Trump. With Gov. Mary Fallin, the Republican lame duck, leaving office with dismal approval ratings Democrats believe they could be competitive in what is generally a deeply conservative state.

Stitt won 56 percent of the vote and will now face Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson, the former Attorney General of Oklahoma, in November.

Miami’s congressional District 27 is being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, giving Democrats a chance to capture a seat she held since 1989.

Democrat Donna Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, won her party’s nomination for the District 27 seat and will face Republican Maria Salazar, a former news broadcaster well-known to Spanish audiences in the area.

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