Andrew Gillum pulled out a surprise win in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor — upsetting presumed frontrunner Gwen Graham for the nomination. Now, all eyes are on him on election night.
Gillum, 39, is the mayor of Tallahassee. From the start of his candidacy, he ran on a progressive platform that includes Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, and was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and progressive billionaire Tom Steyer.
Gillum already defied steep political odds during the August primary, beating presumed frontrunner Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress and the daughter of a former governor and senator; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and business executive Jeff Greene. He is now facing Trump-endorsed Republican Ron DeSantis in November’s general election, which forecasters have rated a toss-up.
His showing in the Florida primary was history-making; Gillum is the first African-American gubernatorial nominee in the state, and he would be the state’s first black governor if he wins tonight.
It’s an exciting moment for progressive groups, but also for black Democrats in the South; next door, Stacey Abrams is the Democratic nominee in Georgia. If Abrams wins, she could be the nation’s first African-American woman governor.
Who is Andrew Gillum?
Gillum is originally from Miami. One of seven children, the nominee’s mother was a city bus driver, and his father was a construction worker. He spoke about his family’s humble beginnings in a March campaign ad.
He entered Tallahassee city politics at a young age. When he was 23, he was elected to the Tallahassee City Commission with just $6,000 in campaign cash, but a strong, locally organized ground game, according to a profile by BuzzFeed’s Darren Sands.
Gillum was surging in polls in the days before the August primary race, but even though progressive groups were excited about him, he remained somewhat under the radar until the week before Election Day. National groups including Indivisible, Democracy For America, Our Revolution, and Collective PAC all threw their support behind him. Billionaire Tom Steyer and his group NextGen also made a significant financial investment of $1 million in Gillum’s campaign.
Enthusiasm for Gillum has been palpable in the run-up to the November general election, and some political observers in the state believe it could boost the entire Democratic ticket.
“He is quite possibly going to increase turnout among Democratic constituencies that traditionally do not turn out,” Mac Stipanovich, a lobbyist and longtime Republican strategist in Florida, told Vox recently. “At the end of the day, it’s the way it’s always going to be, it’s going to come down to turnout.”
An FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government — specifically, how the city’s the community redevelopment agency used taxpayer money — has been hanging over Gillum’s campaign, even though there is no evidence that Gillum is a focus of the investigation. The investigation is still ongoing, per a Tampa Bay Times story, and FBI officials have said little about it so far.
How race could influence the Florida governor’s election
Race has become a flashpoint in the Florida governor’s race. Gillum is a young, black Democrat with local ties and an inspirational story. And he’s accused both Trump and his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis of race-baiting throughout the election.
Trump recently called Gillum a “thief” in connection to an FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government (Gillum is Tallahassee’s mayor), and DeSantis once urged voters to not “monkey this up” by casting a ballot for Gillum. Gillum challenged DeSantis directly on this during a gubernatorial debate.
That has many in Florida’s black community infuriated, and it could spur turnout. Black voters overwhelmingly tend to favor Democrats, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they are fired up to go to the polls this year, both to vote for Gillum and to rebuke Trump and his rhetoric. There was already evidence of this in the primary, per the Tampa Bay Times.
In the 2010 primary, just 14 percent of registered black Democrats cast votes. In 2014, 18 percent did. In August, voter turnout among black Democrats jumped to a whopping 32 percent — higher than other Democrats.
Dwight Bullard, political director of grassroots group New Florida Majority, said that while Florida’s black voters are traditionally under-polled, the enthusiasm for Gillum is everywhere.
“People are adopting their own style of campaigning for Andrew Gillum,” he said. “We’ve seen murals pop up. Someone created a Gillum mixtape. These are voters who by and large are not getting polled … they don’t have landlines or they’re ignoring these calls.”