Sanders-backed Andrew Gillum wins major upset in Florida Dem gov primary
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a progressive aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), pulled off a stunning win in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, edging out former Rep. Gwen Graham.
Gillum won the primary with 34 percent of the vote, The Associated Press projected with 87 percent of precincts reporting. Graham, the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), won 32 percent of the vote.
The come-from-behind win defied expectations and is bound to invite comparisons to the win by progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned the political world in June by defeating established Rep. Joseph Crowley in a New York Democratic primary.
Gillum will face off against Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) in the gubernatorial election in November, pitting a progressive against a hard-line conservative backed by President Trump.
A win in November would make Gillum the first black governor in Florida’s history.
Few had expected it. Most recent public polls showed Gillum in third place, trailing Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine for the Democratic nod to replace Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is term-limited and running for Senate.
Gillum lagged in fundraising and was slow to launch television ads in a state where such spots have traditionally been highly valued by political campaigns.
But in the final weeks before Tuesday’s primary, Gillum won the endorsement of Sanders, who campaigned alongside the Tallahassee mayor in Tampa and Orlando.
Sanders on Tuesday congratulated Gillum on his victory.
“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. No one person can take on the economic and political elites on their own,” Sanders said in a statement.
“Tonight, Floridians joined Andrew in standing up and demanding change in their community. That’s what the political revolution is all about and Andrew Gillum is helping to lead it.”
Gillum also brought in other high-profile surrogates, including Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who rose to fame during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
And he earned a number of high-profile celebrity endorsements, ranging from Alec Baldwin to Jane Fonda, while receiving financial backing from Democratic mega-donors Tom Steyer and George Soros.
Gillum and his aides and advisers touted the mayor’s campaign as a grass-roots movement that would energize progressive Democrats in November.
For too long, his campaign argued, Democrats had run middle-of-the-road candidates that failed to excite the base, effectively locking the party out of the governor’s mansion for two decades.
The 39-year-old mayor fashioned himself as a progressive in the vein of Sanders, preaching the virtues of “Medicare for all” and a $15 minimum wage on the campaign trail.
Gillum and his allies argued that campaigning on progressive ideals would be a path to victory in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s mansion since Lawton Chiles won reelection in 1994.
The Cook Political Report had rated the race a “toss-up” coming into the primary.
“You’ll see a united Republican front come the fall,” Geoff Burgan, a Gillum campaign aide, told The Hill earlier this month. “And the mayor is the only Democrat that can bring out the base in the same way.”
Gillum, however, endorsed Hillary Clinton weeks ahead of the state’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Clinton went on to win the state handily over Sanders.
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