Two candidates backed by the most high-profile populists in American politics will face off in November in a pivotal race to become Florida's next governor, a showdown between outsiders who upset establishment-backed contenders.
Rep. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemocrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms California dreaming did not become reality for Republicans Florida landlord requiring proof of vaccinations from tenants MORE won the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday with the help of a timely endorsement from President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE, beating out a better-known rival who had planned to run for office for years.
On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum stunned observers after besting a former congresswoman who is also the daughter of a former Democratic governor.
DeSantis won the Republican primary with 56.4 percent of the vote, The Associated Press projected with 94 percent of precincts reporting. He easily outpaced state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R), who was projected to win 36.6 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Gillum won the Democratic primary with 34.1 percent of the vote, edging out former Rep. Gwen GrahamGwendolyn GrahamFlorida Democrats' midterm fantasy faceoff: DeSantis vs. Demings Moderate Democrats now in a race against the clock Dear Iowans: Apologies for Sen. Rick Scott's lack of decency MORE (D) who garnered 31.4 percent, according to AP.
Both DeSantis and Gillum staged late comebacks.
DeSantis, a three-term congressman, trailed Putnam badly in most polls earlier this year. But he vaulted ahead in late June, after President Trump endorsed him in an early-morning tweet. Trump appeared at a Tampa rally with DeSantis late last month.
Putnam, a former member of the House Republican leadership who had carefully planned his bid for governor for years, appealed to Vice President Pence to keep Trump out of the race, to no avail.
Meanwhile on the Democratic side, Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levin (D) had led most early polls, but Graham surged into what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.
Her efforts to hold off Levin and Gillum were made more complicated by Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate developer who spent tens of millions of his own money running negative ads blasting Graham and Levin.
Greene ended up taking just 10 percent of the vote, an embarrassing loss after spending so much of his own money.
But that spending may have provided an opening for Gillum, who also benefitted from a late visit from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Democrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' MORE (I-Vt.).
Gillum, 39, won a seat on the Tallahassee city commission when he was just 23 years old. He would be Florida's first African-American governor if he wins in November.
DeSantis is also 39; he turns 40 in September.
The race to replace term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R) is already one of the most expensive contests in the country, and both parties plan to spend millions more in the sprint toward Election Day.
Florida is a key presidential battleground state, and the next governor will have influence over congressional district maps that will be drawn after the next census in 2020.
Republicans have had the upper hand in recent years, winning the last five gubernatorial elections. The last Democrat to win the governor’s mansion, Lawton Chiles, won his last reelection bid in 1994.