TALLAHASSEE, Florida—Former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) in Florida’s gubernatorial election on Tuesday, a major victory for President Donald Trump and a devastating blow for national Democrats who saw in Gillum a future leader in their party.
Just before 11 p.m., Gillum conceded to DeSantis, telling supporters here: “We didn't win it tonight. We didn't win this transaction."
In the run-up to Election Day, Democrats—both in Florida and nationally—had reveled in Gillum’s ability to excite liberal voters and increase turnout among African-Americans. Former President Barack Obama campaigned for Gillum in Miami, leading many to believe that Gillum could replicate Obama’s strategy of building a broad coalition composed principally of African-Americans, first-time voters, and disaffected Democrats.
But it wasn’t enough to put Gillum over the top.
Trump loomed large over Florida’s gubernatorial election, and for good reason. DeSantis received Trump’s endorsement over Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam during the primary—a move that essentially gave DeSantis the GOP nomination.
The president openly feuded with Gillum—including calling him a “thief” without providing evidence—while boosting DeSantis and, ultimately, carrying him over the top. And DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer who served as a Navy lieutenant commander, leaned heavily on Trump, especially in the final stretch of the campaign. In the week leading up to Election Day, Trump held two rallies in Florida as part of an effort to boost Republican turnout in the state, which Trump won by just 1 percentage point in 2016.
DeSantis repeatedly went after Gillum over his progressive policy positions, branding him as a democratic socialist and telling voters that Gillum would hike state taxes in order to pay for the programs he wanted to enact. He also attacked Gillum for his biting criticisms of Trump and his belief that the president should be impeached.
But his closing argument centered around a pro-law enforcement message. On the campaign trail, he often touted the endorsements he received from police groups and sheriffs throughout Florida. On Sunday, he campaigned in Boca Raton alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who went after Gillum for the federal corruption investigation targeting some top officials in Tallahassee. Gillum has said the FBI told him he was not a target of that probe. DeSantis successfully hammered Gillum over his perceived hostility toward law enforcement.
“I’m a natural choice, but part of the reason we’ve gotten so much support is because they look at the opponent, Andrew Gillum, and they are scared of what they see in terms of what that would mean for public safety in Florida,” DeSantis told supporters over the weekend.