Florida Sets Up Governor’s Race Between Trump Republican And Black Progressive Democrat

Florida voters in the Republican and Democratic parties have set up a Gubernatorial race that provides a stark choice on the table for Sunshine State voters in a race that will likely have national implications moving forward.

Yesterday saw what essentially amounts to the last round of big primary races prior to the November midterm elections with races in both Florida and Arizona that are likely to set up some of the most closely watched races of the year in both states. In one of those races, the race to succeed Rick Scott as Governor of Florida, yesterday’s primary resulted in a victory by Trump-backed Republican candidate Congressman Ron DeSantis and an upset victory by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who becomes the first African-American candidate for Governor from a major party in Florida’s history. Given the fact that DeSantis is a strongly Trump-backed Republican while Gillum is an African-American from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, this gives us a fall contest that will most assuredly be an interesting battle to watch for the next two months:

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Democrats nominated Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, and 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. Gillum’s narrow defeat of the former congresswoman Gwen Graham, the front-runner, represented one of the most significant upsets of the primary season and a major victory for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. It sets up twin governors’ races in neighboring Southern states between left-leaning African-Americans banking on the region’s new, diversifying electorate, and ardent, Trump-style nationalists.

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

And here, with redistricting looming after the next census, Medicaid expansion on the line and control of the most crucial presidential battleground at stake, the Florida governor’s race is shaping up to be a titanic showdown. The specter of two young, hard-charging politicians who represent the beating heart of their parties facing off will supercharge the fall campaign.

“We’re going to make clear to the rest of the world that the dark days that we’ve been under, coming out of Washington, that the derision and the division that has been coming out of our White House, that right here in the state of Florida we are going to remind this nation of what is truly the American way,” Mr. Gillum told jubilant supporters in Tallahassee.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Gillum won 34 percent of the vote while Ms. Graham had 31 percent, The A.P. reported.

Beyond Ms. Graham, Mr. Gillum defeated five other rivals. Three opponents — Ms. Graham, Philip Levine and Jeff Greene — 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.”

Mr. Gillum edged out Ms. Graham, a former North Florida congresswoman who finished second, and Mr. Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor who finished third, after dropping nearly $30 million of his personal fortune into the campaign. Ms. Graham, a moderate, had been considered the favorite in a midterm year in which many Democratic women have fared well.

But her centrism and the implicit case for electability proved to be of little asset in a year when emotions have gripped both parties.

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.

(…)

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 Mr. DeSantis, a 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 3 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.

Politico‘s Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo have more, including what is likely to be the focus of this race going forward, namely the contrast between DeSantis the Trump loyalist and Gillum the Bernie Sanders backed progressive Democrat, as does The Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook and Reid Epstein:

Mr. DeSantis, 39 years old, is a Navy veteran and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who campaigned heavily on his endorsement from Mr. Trump.

Mr. Gillum, who defeated the favored former Rep. Gwen Graham in a crowded Democratic primary, has called for the president’s impeachment. If he beats Mr. DeSantis in the fall, Mr. Gillum would become the state’s first black governor.

Tuesday’s results in Florida illustrate how much both political parties have been transformed following Mr. Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 presidential election. The Republican Party has become the party of Trump, while Democrats are under heavy pressure to turn to the left in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s debilitating loss to Mr. Trump in 2016.

It is especially apt that this face off takes place in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, one that Mr. Trump won by less than 2 percentage points.

The decisive victory by Mr. DeSantis over Florida agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam, a well-funded Republican backed by the party establishment, was the latest evidence of Mr. Trump’s dominant role in the 2018 Republican primaries.

Of the three dozen Republicans Mr. Trump has endorsed in primaries this year, Mr. DeSantis’s win is the one that owes the most to the president’s sway: The Trump endorsement this summer upended a race that had been seen as Mr. Putnam’s to lose.

In the wake of the DeSantis victory, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to hail the victory. “Such a fantastic win for Ron DeSantis and the people of the Great State of Florida,” he said.

(…)

Mr. DeSantis told his supporters at a victory party that he had talked to Mr. Trump to thank him for his support

“I’m not always the most popular guy in D.C. but I did have support from someone in Washington,” he said. “If you walk down Pennsylvania Avenue he lives in the white house with the pillars in front.”

Mr. Gillum’s victory came as a shock to the Democratic political establishment in Florida and Washington, who had widely expected Ms. Graham to prevail.

She led every public poll of the race and was the best known when the race began. Her father, Bob Graham, was a past Florida governor and senator, and she was the only woman in a five-candidate field in a year in which female candidates have dominated Democratic primaries.

Mr. Gillum, 39, is a break from the sort of centrist Democrats who have won statewide races in Florida. He is the son of a bus driver, and he won his first race for city council as a 23-year-old student at Florida A&M University.

An unabashed progressive backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, he ran TV advertisements calling for, among other things, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and banning assault weapons.

In victory remarks to supporters, Mr. Gillum said his campaign would serve as a rebuke to Trumpian politics.

“We are going to remind this nation of what is truly the American way,” Mr. Gillum said, as opposed to “the derision and the division that is coming out of the White House.”

The race to succeed Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is term-limited, is considered a tossup by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Some Republicans worry the choice of the more conservative Mr. DeSantis will make it harder to hold the governor’s mansion than if the nominee had been the more mainstream Mr. Putnam.

Mr. DeSantis is one of 37 Republicans around the country whom the president has endorsed in their primaries for House, Senate or governor. All but two have won.

Mr. Putnam, a former Congressman, had begun the Florida race as the presumed front-runner owing to his long political experience and his fundraising prowess. He outraised Mr. DeSantis by 2-to-1.

It’s had to predict where the race between DeSantis and Gillum will head as we move into General Election mode in the coming days. As things stand, all of the major political analysis sites have rated the Florida Governor’s race a tossup, but those assessments were made before the primary races were decided and, in some cases, at a time when many people were anticipating that Adam Putnam and Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham, would be the nominees of their respective parties. Given that, it will be interesting to see if the actual outcome of the primaries in both parties changes those predictions, although I suspect that it won’t. It’s also worth noting that there has been only a small amount polling of a race between DeSantis and Gillum and that it is inclusive at best. One poll, taken by Gravis Marketing about six weeks ago showed DeSantis (39%) leading Gillum (36%) by three points. An earlier Gravis poll taken from late May to mid-June showed Gillum (38%) leading DeSantis (35%) by three points, and an even earlier Gravis poll, taken from late February to mid-March gave Gillum (33%) leading DeSantis (29%) by just two points. All three polls show as much as one-third of the electorate as undecided or not naming any preference, an unsurprising outcome given the fact that both of these candidates started out the race as relatively unknown underdogs. Now that the primary race is over, these numbers will obviously change significantly as both Republicans and Democrats line up behind their party’s nominee and the two candidates battle for the independent voters in the center, many of whom were part of the coalition that allowed Donald Trump to narrowly win the Sunshine State in 2016.

The contrast between Congressman DeSantis and Mayor Gillum could not be more apparent, and that contrast is likely to be the major focus of the race going forward. In DeSantis, we have a conservative Republican who openly courted the support of President Trump and the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party and who, in his campaign, mirrored many of the “anti-establishment” themes that Trump hit upon in his own campaign for the Republican nomination and the Presidency. In doing so, he took on and defeated Adam Putnam, whose path to the Governor’s office seemed to be assured at the beginning of the year. In a similar vein, Gillum started the race as a relative long shot in a race that everyone expected Gwen Graham, a Congresswoman with a last name that has deep roots in Florida politics, to dominate. While Graham and other candidates racked up endorsements and massively outspent Gillum, Gillum received the support of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and other representatives of the Democratic Party’s “progressive” wing. His unexpected and surprising victory,  while a narrow one due to a large number of candidates in the race, is perhaps the biggest victory for that wing of the party this campaign season, even bigger than the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over New York Democrat Joe Crowley earlier this summer. More than any other race on the ballot this fall, then, this race sets up a study in contrasts that could have major implications going forward for both political parties individually and for a state that will obviously have a major impact on the 2020 election. Stay tuned, this is going to be an interesting race to watch.

Update: Less than twelve hours after winning the nomination, Congressman DeSantis has already put his foot in his mouth.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2018, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Gillum was an odd choice given he’s currently under investigation by both the state ethics committee and the FBI.

  2. James Pearce says:

    “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.”

    Ten years from now, most people are going to pretend they were never influenced by Twitter, aren’t they?

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Gillum was an odd choice given he’s currently under investigation by both the state ethics committee and the FBI.

    An old fat white guy filed ethics charges against Gillum, and nothing has come from it as far as I can tell.
    And he hasn’t been implicated in the FBI investigation, as far as I can tell.
    This, in a state that had Rick Scott as Governor.
    Zzzzzzzzzzzz

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  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    Betty Cracker at Balloon Juice sums up Gillum’s win with this, “Levine and Graham split what might be called the center-left vote, and two billionaire vanity candidates sucked up 14% or so of the Democratic votes. In that context, Gillum’s win isn’t that much of a shocker.”

  5. Todd says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Gillum was an odd choice given he’s currently under investigation by both the state ethics committee and the FBI.

    From what I understand Gillum has not been implicated at all in the FBI investigation … but seeing as how the investigation was still mentioned in pretty much every news article I read about him last night it may end up being an issue he has to deal with. So much for the media’s “liberal bias”.

    As for the race itself, I think that DeSantis winning the GOP nomination will help Gillum, and possibly even make him a better choice for Dems than the more moderate Graham. Moderates in the state may not be thrilled about a Bernie Sanders endorsed candidate, but they will almost certainly still be willing to do all that they can to ensure that a Trump clone doesn’t become their next governor. I think this is going to be an interesting real world test case when it comes to all the theories about “electability”, and whether it’s actually possible for a general election candidate to be “too liberal” when running against an unabashedly far right GOP opponent.

  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    And he hasn’t been implicated in the FBI investigation, as far as I can tell.

    Yeah, and Trump says he was assured he’s not a target of the investigation too.

    You may be right, but hopefully this doesn’t turn into another Menendez situation where a winnable race turns into a toss up because the Dem candidate’s personal issues.

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  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    OK…well we can see already how this is going to go.
    DeSantis on the Dennison Propaganda Network this morning:

    “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state…That’s not going to work, that’s not going to be good for Florida.”

    Emphasis, mine.

  8. Todd says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Remember the good old days when calling someone “macaca” could still contribute to losing a Senate race?

    In today’s toxic environment, this monkey comment will probably boost DeSantis in the polls. 🙁

  9. James Pearce says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Emphasis, mine.

    Everyone on Twitter is emphasizing the same thing. How much time and effort will be wasted painting Desantis as racist when he’s really just kind of guilty of a poor choice of words and we could be hitting him on shit that actually matters?

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  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Pearce:

    How much time and effort will be wasted painting Desantis as racist when he’s really just kind of guilty of a poor choice of words and we could be hitting him on shit that actually matters?

    Bigotry, hatred, and ignorance, matter.

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  11. James Pearce says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Bigotry, hatred, and ignorance, matter.

    Yeah, if they’re real.

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  12. Kathy says:

    Are racists now immune from making poor word choices?

  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Yeah, if they’re real.

    He’s a Dennison supporter. Do the math. (and yes, supporting a racist does in fact make you a racist)

  14. Ratufa says:

    @James Pearce:

    Yeah, if they’re real.

    This is an election. You can’t possibly believe that voter perceptions only matter when they are true. The Democrats should take advantage of the opportunities they are given. But, I agree with you that the Dems should also provide positive reasons why people should vote for them.

  15. James Pearce says:

    @Kathy:

    Are racists now immune from making poor word choices?

    I’m prepared to hear the argument for how DeSantis is actually racist, if you’re prepared to make it.

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    He’s a Dennison supporter.

    So? Maybe he just wants low taxes and conservative judges. Why should you assume every Trump supporter is racist? Where is that taking you exactly?

    @Ratufa:

    This is an election.

    Yeah, which means there are actually things at stake and this just isn’t some virtue-signaling performance art.

    You can’t possibly believe that voter perceptions only matter when they are true.

    I will not advocate dishonesty and deception as tools to win an election.

    The Democrats should take advantage of the opportunities they are given.

    Creating false impressions of your opponents does not give you an opportunity or an advantage.

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  16. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    he’s really just kind of guilty of a poor choice of words

    Even if it was merely “a poor choice of words,” that the word “monkey” was the first word that came into his mind when referring to an election contest against a black opponent is a meager defense indeed.

  17. Jay L Gischer says:

    As a matter of strategy, I think Gillum should ignore the “monkey” remark. For now. If DeSantis means it, he’ll double down. He’ll say something worse. Because the worst possible thing for these guys is getting ignored. Let him raise the ante before letting him have it. And when you do lower the boom, do it with some style. “I think Florida would like to move beyond that sort of thing. And let me tell you how I want to do that …”

    They want to race-bait in terms that seem innocent to their own followers. Don’t let them.

  18. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    that the word “monkey” was the first word that came into his mind

    Is it any worse than thinking the word “monkey” is a reference to Gullim’s race?

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  19. Ratufa says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    If DeSantis means it, he’ll double down. He’ll say something worse. Because the worst possible thing for these guys is getting ignored.

    No. He’s a candidate for political office and the worse possible thing for those guys is losing the election. If he has any brains/self control at all, he’ll be more careful with his words, except when talking to selected small groups, where he’ll reassure them that he shares their “concerns”. Though, that doesn’t hold if he decides that a Trumpian strategy is his best chance of winning.

  20. Ratufa says:

    @James Pearce:

    Creating false impressions of your opponents does not give you an opportunity or an advantage.

    That is demonstrably not true. For example, consider Benghazi. It was frequently used by Republicans to bash Clinton, and it’s hard to argue that had zero effect on what some people thought of her. Yet, there is no evidence that she actually did anything wrong.

  21. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    Is it any worse than thinking the word “monkey” is a reference to Gullim’s race?

    Please, James. Stop pretending to be a complete idiot.

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  22. Todd says:

    @Ratufa: I’ll make that argument. Benghazi had near zero negative effect on Hillary Clinton’s election campaign. If anything, the way she handled herself in those long hearings was probably a net positive.

    The only way it may have hurt her was when her supporters (and even campaign) tried to dismiss the email server debacle as “just another Benghazi type attack by the vast right-wing conspiracy”

  23. TM01 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    An old fat white guy filed ethics charges against Gillum, and nothing has come from it as far as I can tell.
    And he hasn’t been implicated in the FBI investigation, as far as I can tell.
    This, in a state that had Rick Scott as Governor.
    Zzzzzzzzzzzz

    But TRUMP is going down any day now!!

    LOL

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  24. TM01 says:

    Florida Sets Up Governor’s Race Between Trump Republican And Black Progressive Democrat
    Florida voters in the Republican and Democratic parties have set up a Gubernatorial race that provides a stark choice on the table for Sunshine State voters in a race that will likely have national implications moving forward.

    Couldn’t you have said Trump Republican vs Bernie Democrat?

    #DogWhistle

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  25. James Pearce says:

    @Ratufa: You can follow the Republicans’ example down that road. I will not.

    @Mikey:

    Stop pretending to be a complete idiot.

    Dude, he used it as a verb, like you would for some unruly kids making a mess in the living room. Go make your hay. I’m not helping.

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  26. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m not helping.

    You’re right. You’re not.

    “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” — MLK

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  27. An Interested Party says:

    Gillum was an odd choice given he’s currently under investigation by both the state ethics committee and the FBI.

    Rick Scott, twice-elected governor of Florida, was involved in one of the worst Medicare frauds in history…obviously Florida voters don’t care too much about that sort of thing…

  28. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey: MLK wanted to judge people by the content of their character. Not on their tone deaf gaffes.

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  29. Ratufa says:

    @Todd:

    Benghazi had near zero negative effect on Hillary Clinton’s election campaign. If anything, the way she handled herself in those long hearings was probably a net positive.

    Whether that’s true is a judgment call. I think the number of voters who were positively influenced to vote for her because of the hearings is much much much less than the number of voters who were negatively influenced byf the large amount of negative coverage she received because of Benghazi. Another negative of Benghazi was the opportunity cost of having to play defense on this issue.

  30. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: MLK understood the former often informs the latter.

  31. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Gillum is from my Alma Mater–although he came through much later than I did. Trust and believe he’ll be able to handle anything Desantis can throw at him–with zero F##ks to give. Obama is a relative cornball when it comes to snapback humor–what you are about to witness will be a je ne sais quoi of snapback against Trumps sock puppet. This is a skill we learn relatively soon at an HBCU. He’s already fired shots at Trump via twitter.

  32. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Hopefully Gillum has enough sense to let his Democratic advisors run him down a rabbit hole of boring policy positions and fact checking of Trump and Desantis. Voters are persuaded by stories and the Democrat one makes no sense. Its a disorganized buffet of signaling at various groups that lacks context or direction. Voters want a vision and leader–who they selfishly want to feel will work to their they individual lives better. Niche issues that affect 1% of the electorate are not things to build a campaign around. They are things you pursue once you start governing.