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Andrew Gillum wins Florida governor primary in upset victory for the left

The Tallahassee mayor will be the Democratic nominee in one of 2018’s most important governor’s races.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum during a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, on August 17, 2018.
Chris O’Meara/AP
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum prevailed in the hotly contested Democratic primary election for Florida governor, giving the left another marquee win in the 2018 midterms.

Gillum is the first black Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Florida history. He won out over Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress, the daughter of a former governor and senator, and the presumed Democratic frontrunner; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and businessman Jeff Greene. He will face Republican Ron DeSantis in November’s general election, a race that election forecasters have rated a toss-up.

The state capital’s mayor since 2014, Gillum is young at 39, black (he would also be Florida’s first black governor), and pretty far to the left ideologically. He received the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Our Revolution, and Democracy for America in the primary. He has proposed hiking the state’s corporate tax rate to fund education, raising its minimum wage to $15, and he endorsed a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system at the national level.

Gillum talks with residents in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami on August 13, 2018.
Lynne Sladky/AP

Gillum also supports expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, which Florida has thus far refused to do, leaving hundreds of thousands of its poorest residents without coverage. He has also joined with other progressive leaders who want to abolish the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after the family separations crisis.

There is also, however, an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in the Tallahassee city government — though Gillum has not been implicated in any way, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

DeSantis, currently a member of the US House, has done everything he can to embrace Donald Trump, complete with a campaign ad in which he builds a wall with his daughter and puts his young son in a Make America Great Again onesie.

Gillum had led in no independent polls before Tuesday’s primary, so his win is a genuine surprise. But political operatives in the state had picked up a sense of momentum for his campaign, and the last St. Pete Polls survey before the election found him trailing Graham by just 7 points.

State politicos thought Gillum benefited from being the odd man out in what was at times a fierce battle between Graham and Greene in particular. Graham, who served one term in the US House and had the endorsement of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), had led in almost every public poll.

“Gillum is definitely rising,” Steve Schale, a Democratic operative in the state, told me before the primary. “When you have four people in the race, typically the one who is rising at the end is the one not being attacked.”

Progressives have made inroads in Democratic primaries, but they’ve also lost plenty of races like the Florida governor’s race where there was an establishment alternative. Gillum stands out as the of the left’s biggest wins in 2018. Now he’s on to the general election.

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