Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum upset a crowded field of well-funded candidates in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday, a step away from becoming the state’s first black governor. His surprise victory sets up a November showdown with Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, a favorite of President Donald Trump.
Gillum’s victory could further energize black voters in a year when Democrats are already counting on high turnout among minorities to buoy the party in the November election. Gillum is the party’s third black gubernatorial nominee this year, along with Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland.
DeSantis rode Trump’s endorsement to victory in the GOP race, underscoring the president’s broad appeal in Republican primaries. Trump cheered DeSantis’ victory on Twitter Tuesday night, writing: “Ron will be a fantastic Governor. On to November!”
DeSantis was one of several Republicans running in contests Tuesday in Florida and Arizona — both important political battlegrounds — who hoped that cozying up to the president would be rewarded by voters. Trump has thrust himself into the forefront of the midterm campaign in hopes of motivating his supporters and offsetting Democratic enthusiasm.
Trump surprised Florida Republicans late last year with his endorsement of DeSantis, and frequently tweeted about the lawmaker, one of his staunchest supporters in Washington. His backing helped push DeSantis past Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has held elected office in Florida since 1996, quickly built up establishment support and raised millions of dollars.
Gillum came from behind in a crowded and diverse Democratic field. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, whose father, Bob Graham, served as governor, had been hoping to position herself to become the state’s first female governor.
Gillum, a favorite of progressives, spent the least of the five major Democratic candidates and had the smallest television presence. He often said he was the only candidate in the race who wasn’t a millionaire or billionaire, and won the endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The winner of the Florida governor’s race will give his party an advantage in a key political battleground heading into the 2020 presidential campaign.
Current Florida Gov. Rick Scott is vacating the governor’s mansion to run for Senate. He easily won his primary, setting up a showdown with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson that is expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive races.
Democrats also eyed congressional pickup opportunities in Florida as they try to flip control of the U.S. House. One of their best chances is in South Florida, where Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring in a district that should favor Democrats.
Donna Shalala, who served as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services secretary, claimed the Democratic nomination in Ros-Lehtinen’s district.
The primaries in both Florida and Arizona were closely watched for signs of how the political battlegrounds might tilt in the 2020 presidential election.
Gillum Upsets Democratic Field in Florida Governor’s Race