In one of the most stunning come-from-behind wins in recent political history, Andrew Gillum, the 39-year-old progressive Mayor of Tallahassee, won last night's Democratic primary to succeed Rick Scott as Governor of Florida, becoming the first ever African-American to receive this nomination.
This represents a huge break from tradition, not just because of his ethnicity. In previous races, the Florida Democratic Party has nominated bland, white moderates - and sometimes former Republicans, like former governor Charlie Crist. Gwen Graham, an ex-congresswoman and the daughter of Florida political legend Bob Graham, was widely seen as the favorite to win, and like previous candidates, she had courted disaffected white Republicans as her base, while fending off who she saw as her three most significant opponents - Philip Levine, Jeff Green, and Chris King.
A True Progressive
Gillum, who campaigned on a $15.00 minimum wage, single-payer healthcare, abolishing ICE, and repealing the controversial Stand Your Ground laws that resulted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, polled in either fourth place or last most of the time. Because of this, the other candidates ignored him, attacking each other instead. They also outspent him by wide margins: according to reporter Alex Leary, he only spent $6.7 million, as opposed to Levine's $37.7 and Graham's $16.3. “My opponents have spent together, over $90 million in this race," he told supporters in Little Havana last Saturday. "We have spent four. Money doesn’t vote. People do.”
In addition, an FBI probe into Tallahassee's corruption made it difficult for him to gain traction in the race, despite the fact that (so far, at least) his connection to the events being investigated are tenuous at best. Campaign aides reported that donors were scared off at first, worried that he might be tainted by it. But his Democratic opponents did not use it against him, and voters did not seem to care, as Gillum's rhetoric and strategy outweighed any doubts they may have had. It also helped that he won the support of progressive billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros, both of whom gave him significant financial windfalls towards the end of the campaign.
The Bridge Between Bernie and Hillary?
Playing to the intersectionality of the Democratic Party, Gillum targeted both economic and racial interests, from millennials concerned with the economy to Black Lives Matter activists. Having been a Hillary Clinton delegate and speaker at the DNC, as well as receiving the support of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution, he bridged the divide by organizing women of color, the base of the Democratic Party, around progressive issues that have usually been framed as "white." A key example of is how he approached the environment, which historically has been targeted towards white Florida voters rather than black ones. In speaking with black communities, Gillum attacked Florida's lax pollution laws with no holds barred, knowing that the ongoing algae crisis would affect the health of black children in poor areas and bring concerned mothers into his camp.
The activism in Florida since the Parkland shooting also played a role in his victory. Gillum, who had previously been sued by the NRA for an ordinance preventing gun owners from firing their weapons in public parks, understood that Parkland was the turning point in the gun debate that America had been waiting for since Sandy Hook. Parkland survivor David Hogg supported Gillum, and much credit goes to him and his colleagues for registering young voters, who made up 41% of all registrations as of last month. Broward County, Parkland's home, saw its turnout double from 11% in 2014 to 22% last night and voted for Gillum by 12 points (turnout in the whole state was 1.4 million, a huge boost from 2014's 837,000.)
Gillum vs The Trump Republicans
Gillum will run against Trump-endorsed Republican Ron DeSantis, who belittled his opponent with a series of racist dog whistles on Fox News this morning. If elected, he would be the first Democrat to serve as governor since Buddy McKay, an interim replacement who served out the last days of Lawton Chiles' term before Jeb Bush took power at the beginning of 1999.
“We’re going to make clear to the rest of the world," he said in his victory speech last night, "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.”