Gillum wins stunner and other takeaways from Arizona, Florida
The huge upset victory by progressive Andrew Gillum in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor stole the headlines on Tuesday night, showcasing yet again just how unexpected primary results can be this year.
Gillum, armed with an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and campaigning on an unabashedly progressive agenda, unexpectedly defeated former Rep. Gwen Graham (D), the daughter of a popular former governor and senator.
The victory gives the progressive wing of the Democratic Party another jolt of momentum, coming two months after democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the cycle by knocking off longtime incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D) in New York.
Gillum will now face off against Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), who was endorsed by President Trump, setting up a battle of two diametrically opposite populist agendas that will need to tailor their messages to win the votes of more moderate, independent voters.
It will be the same pivoting that Rep. Martha McSally (R) will need to accomplish in Arizona after the GOP establishment favorite prevailed in the Republican Senate primary.
But to win the race against GOP rivals Kelli Ward Joe Arpaio, McSally had to veer hard to the right, and like other Republican candidates this cycle she had to embrace the Trump agenda.
Here are the takeaways from Florida’s and Arizona’s primaries, as well as Oklahoma’s runoffs:
Florida gives progressives shot in the arm
Gillum’s upset victory in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary gave a shot in the arm to the progressive movement led by Sanders, which so far has had an uneven record in primaries.
Most public polls leading up to the Tuesday primary showed the Tallahassee mayor trailing two more-moderate Democrats, Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.
But Gillum received a late-in-the-game assist from the Vermont senator, who campaigned alongside him in Tampa and Orlando earlier this month.
His victory amounts to the biggest political upset for a progressive candidate since Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in the House, in June.
It was also a much needed one after several Sanders-backed candidates lost their primaries in recent weeks, including Abdul El-Sayed in Michigan’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
But can Gillum win in November?
Gillum ran on a progressive policy agenda in the primaries, including “Medicare for all” and a $15 minimum wage.
Gillum and his allies argued that Democrats had for too long banked on middle-of-the-road candidates to win elections, effectively shutting the party out of the governor’s mansion for two decades.
The win by the Tallahassee mayor proved a progressive can win a primary in Florida. But it remains an open question whether that same agenda can win over voters in the general election.
Gillum will face DeSantis, who has hitched himself closely to Trump’s populist agenda, pitting two polar opposite views of populism against one another.
That the race is taking place in Florida, a perennial swing state that narrowly went for Trump in 2016, makes it all the more interesting.
McSally and the art of pivoting to the center
McSally won her Arizona GOP primary in the end, but it was a nasty and costly fight against two immigration hard-liners: Ward, a former state senator, and Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County.
McSally, who has long represented a more moderate swing district, had to push to the right to survive her ultraconservative rivals, and she spent a significant part of her primary campaign touting her support for Trump’s agenda, particularly on stronger border security and immigration laws.
McSally now only has a small window to appeal to general election voters who tend to be more moderate in Arizona, a former red state that’s turned more purple over recent years.
Early ballots drop about a month before the November elections, meaning the general starts in earnest in about six weeks.
And McSally will face a formidable opponent in Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), who has taken advantage of the divided Republican race to define herself as a moderate, independent candidate.
McSally gave a preview of what her general election tactics will look like ahead of Tuesday’s primary: casting herself as committed to military service, as a former fight pilot, while accusing Sinema of “protesting us in a pink tutu” after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
During her primary night speech, McSally made it clear that she’ll hammer Sinema as a liberal “to the left of Pelosi Democrats” who’s posing as a centrist.
She will also latch onto a tough-on-immigration stance, hoping it will help carry her to the Senate in November.
Dems looking to make more history — again
Democrats have nominated a number of glass ceiling–breakers throughout the 2018 primaries, and Tuesday night was no exception.
Gillum’s win in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary puts him on track to be the state’s first black governor — if he wins in November.
His victory comes a few months after former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams cruised to victory in Georgia’s Democratic primary as she aims to become the nation’s first black female governor.
Women, too, continued to make history.
In Florida, more than half a dozen female candidates won their respective primaries in top House races, including Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
Elsewhere, Democrat Kendra Horn took her party’s nomination in Oklahoma’s 5th District, and Mary Brannon won the Democratic nomination in the state’s 4th District.
And in one of the biggest battles of the fall, Sinema and McSally will go head-to-head in the general election, all but assuring that a woman will replace Jeff Flake (R) in Washington.
Openly LGBTQ candidates also had success in Tuesday’s primaries, including Sinema, who is openly bisexual. And Democrat Lauren Baer, who’s openly gay and had the backing of national Democrats, easily prevailed in her Florida primary.
Trump remains the Republican kingmaker
DeSantis crushed state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the race for the Republican nomination to be Florida’s next governor — thanks to Trump.
DeSantis easily outpaced Putnam throughout the most populous parts of the state. But he ran up especially big numbers in counties along the Atlantic Coast, like St. Lucie, Broward and Palm Beach, and around Naples, on the Gulf side of the state.
Those are snowbird counties — more specifically, Northeastern snowbird counties, where you’re more likely to hear a Boston or New York accent than any kind of Southern drawl.
The Red Sox play their spring training games in Fort Myers, and the Mets get the season going in Port St. Lucie.
Trump’s endorsement moves Republicans, and it seems to have an outsized effect on those from the Northeast, who speak his language best.
And while Trump didn’t endorse in the Arizona Senate primary, he still loomed large over the race to replace the retiring Flake, an outspoken critic of the president who determined he could not prevail in a Republican primary despite his strong conservative credentials.
All three candidates raced to align themselves with the president, showing how with two months to go, this remains Trump’s Republican Party.
Reid Wilson contributed.