Progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum, 39, rode the wave of record-setting midterm voter turnout, with young adults and Blacks turning out in force, to pull off a stunning primary victory in the high-stakes swing state of Florida on Tuesday.
With one more win in the November general election, a race that promises to be a showdown of epic proportions, the first-term mayor of Tallahassee, the first in a family of seven children to graduate from both high school and college, and who at the age of 23 became the youngest ever elected to the Tallahassee City Council, can make history yet again — this time as the state’s first African-American governor.
Gillum, whose message to voters included expanding access to health care, addressing the climate change crisis, revitalizing public education including improving compensation for teachers and raising the minimum wage, often made mention of his proud, yet humble beginnings in a working-class Miami home and the unique perspective he brings which allows him to better understand the financial challenges with which a growing number of Floridians continue to struggle.
Outspent by millions of dollars in a field of five competitive candidates — in his words, the “only non-millionaire in the race” — Gillum, backed by Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, defeated his closest rival and the front-runner for most of the election, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of Bob Graham, former U.S. senator and Florida’s 38th governor, by three percentage points, 34.2 percent to 31.4 percent, with 94 percent of the votes counted.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Sanders, credited with giving Gillum a significant boost among voters as the campaign entered its final days, often joined Gillum on the campaign trail during his “Bring it Home” statewide tour and drew record crowds in recent rallies in Orlando and Tampa.
“He has has laid out a vision for a new course for the state of Florida and our country,” Sanders said of Gillum’s victory. “Tonight, Floridians joined Andrew in standing up and demanding change in their community. That’s what the political revolution is all about and Andrew Gillum is helping to lead it.”
Floridians must now choose between Gillum and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, 38, the winner in the Republican primary who has the endorsement of President Donald Trump.
The governor’s race stands as one of two major statewide contests in Florida in November’s midterm elections. In the other, Florida Gov. Rick Scott won the Republican Senate primary and will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for a seat Dems must hold if they hope to have a chance to take over the Senate majority.