The Slatest

The Progressive Left Finds a New Hero in Florida

Andrew Gillum talking to voters, as seen in a campaign handout photo.
Andrew Gillum emerged from a crowded field to win Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. Andrew Gillum for Governor

Score another one for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In a stunning upset, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum won Florida’s gubernatorial primary Tuesday, beating both a moderate front-runner with deep ties to the state and a self-funding, self-proclaimed “radical centrist.”

With the vast majority of ballots counted, Gillum led a crowded field with 34 percent of the vote, roughly 3 points ahead of former congresswoman Gwen Graham, a centrist and the only woman in the race, and 14 points ahead of former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a millionaire who sold himself as a pragmatic problem solver.

While Graham and Levine ran toward the middle—a Florida tradition for Democrats dreaming of living in the governor’s mansion—Gillum proudly veered left. Among his positions: hiking corporate taxes to better fund public education, repealing his state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, implementing Medicare for all, and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That earned him the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who showed up in the state this month for a pair of rallies, as well as the backing of liberal megadonors Tom Steyer and George Soros.

Like Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland, if elected, Gillum would become his state’s first black governor.* And like Abrams and Jealous, Gillum used an unapologetically progressive agenda to appeal to disaffected liberals, especially voters of color. But unlike Abrams, who was the heavy favorite in her primary, and Jealous, who was a mild underdog in his, Gillum pretty much came out of nowhere to win his nomination.

Heading into Tuesday, Gillum was sitting in a distant fourth place in RealClearPolitics’ rolling average of polls with less than half the support of the front-runner, Graham, whose father, Bob, served as Florida governor and a U.S. senator for more than a quarter-century combined. Graham had the support of much of the in-state party establishment, along with the likes of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Levine, meanwhile, dipped into his personal fortune and emerged as an early contender before another self-funding candidate, billionaire Jeff Greene, jumped in late and scrambled the standings.

Gillum seems poised to now become a household name on the left. He’s a young-for-politics 39 and journalists were taking note of his charisma and attractiveness back when he seemed likely to lose. When it comes to progressive branding, meanwhile, he splits the difference between a proud democratic socialist like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a don’t-you-effing-dare-call-me-a-socialist like Jealous. As Gillum put it while trying to wiggle away from the question at a town hall earlier this month: “I realize that these labels are easy to throw on folks, but when you’re struggling—when you want to make sure that you can work one job instead of multiple jobs as a way to make ends meet—these labels mean nothing.”

Gillum will now face off against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who won the GOP nomination Tuesday. DeSantis is about as Trump-tastic as one can get. He spent much of his primary on Fox News, where he made a name for himself—and caught the president’s eye—by attacking the FBI and Robert Mueller. The president returned the favor by endorsing DeSantis against the wishes of the GOP establishment, which instead preferred state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam, someone who was still pro-Trump but far less likely to air a campaign ad in which he teaches his kids to “build the wall” with toy blocks.

The general election, then, will make for a clear contrast, much as it will in neighboring Georgia, where Abrams is up against Trump-endorsed Brian Kemp. Abrams, though, did her best to avoid engaging with Trump until she had to, while Gillum has been swinging since last year. “This president is wrong for Florida on almost every issue, and as governor, I will fight against each and every one of his wrong-headed, racist, and sexist policies,” Gillum declared in December. “The Donald Trump presidency shouldn’t even make it through 2018. Donald Trump should be impeached now.”

Correction, Aug. 29, 2018: This post originally misspelled Stacey Abrams’ first name.