Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, won a surprising come-from-behind victory on Tuesday night to claim the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Florida.
He supports Medicare for All and abolishing ICE “in its current form,” and ran as the only non-millionaire in the race. In November Gillum, who would be the state’s first African-American governor if elected, will face Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who resoundingly won the GOP primary following a boost from President Trump.
It sets up a crucial swing-state battle between two 39-year-olds who represent the faces of their parties: a Trump-aligned conservative Fox News regular vs. a progressive African-American.
Gillum’s upset—he didn’t lead in any of the primary polling leading up to the race—is a major coup for the left. A broad coalition of everyone from Steyer and his organization NextGen America to Sanders and Collective PAC, which works to elect African-American candidates, helped lift him over the heavily favored Graham.
“What has made Andrew’s campaign so powerful is that he’s not just working hard to win an election, he has laid out a vision for a new course for the state of Florida and our country,” Sanders, who recently campaigned with him, said in a statement.
Gillum, who was previously a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, will now be charged with carrying the mantle in November for a state that narrowly swung to Trump and hasn’t elected a Democrat for governor in 20 years.
Gillum spent far less than his opponents and has promised to expand the electorate in Florida, a potential boost for incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who faces a daunting challenge against Rick Scott, Florida’s current Republican governor. One question that may come up as the race heats up is an FBI investigation into Tallahassee City Hall.
DeSantis, Gillum’s November opponent, leapfrogged Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was once considered the favorite for the nomination. DeSantis won by a whopping 20 percent, fueled in large part by a full-throated endorsement from Trump.
“Such a fantastic win for Ron DeSantis and the people of the Great State of Florida,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday night. “Ron will be a fantastic Governor. On to November!”
DeSantis, like many Republicans running in the Trump era, has not been shy about tying himself to the president and frequently caught attention by appearing on Fox News. Also like Trump, he has advocated for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Even in DeSantis’ advertising, Trump loomed large.
In one spot, DeSantis is shown jokingly building a wall of toy blocks with his kids and reading them Trump’s book The Art of the Deal.
Democrats fended off primary challengers in other districts in the state, including in the 5th District, where Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) beat Alvin Brown, the first African-American mayor of Jacksonville. Rep. Stephanie Murphy won easily in the 7th District against Chardo Richardson, who was challenging her from the left. And Rep. Darren Soto fended off former congressman Alan Grayson in the 9th District.
The party also picked its candidates in some races it hopes to flip in November, including the 16th District, where Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) has been viewed as vulnerable following a damaging story about purchasing a yacht on the same day that Republicans passed their tax reform measure. Democratic candidate and attorney David Shapiro will face Buchanan in November.
In Florida’s 27th Congressional District, where Republicans are in decidedly more trouble, Democrats selected Donna Shalala, a former member of President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) decided to retire in the district Hillary Clinton won by 20 points and left a wide field of Republicans and Democrats jockeying in her wake. Among the Republicans was Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said she was abducted by aliens as a child. She finished in sixth place behind the nominee Maria Salazar, a former journalist.
The prospect of a Democratic pickup is not quite as likely in two other districts Clinton won in 2016, where incumbent Republicans are decidedly strong. That includes Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s (R-FL) 26th Congressional District, where Democrats selected Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Curbelo has successfully attempted to toe the line between criticism of the president and some of his Republican colleagues while trying not to alienate too many Trump voters. But Democrats are still seriously eyeing his seat.
In Arizona, one of the marquee Senate matchups of 2018 got its contenders. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) won her primary to replace the retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). On the Republican side, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) was the winner, helping Washington, D.C., Republicans avoid candidates they deemed unelectable: former state senator Dr. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Ward spent the final days of her campaign on a bus tour featuring Mike Cernovich, and her campaign suggested that the announcement about the recently deceased Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) decision to stop treatment for brain cancer was timed to draw attention from her campaign. Early polling has indicated that Sinema is slightly favored.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) also won his primary and will face off against professor David Garcia. Garcia is running on a progressive platform including Medicare for All. There has been only limited polling of this head-to-head matchup, but Ducey could be in for a test given the massive unrest among Arizona teachers over school funding cuts, which prompted an enormous strike earlier this year.