Gillum concedes hard-fought Florida governor's race to DeSantis

Democrat Andrew Gillum has conceded the race for Florida governor to Republican Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisElection Countdown: Florida fight ends with Scott, DeSantis wins | Dems see Sunbelt in play for 2020 | Trump to campaign in Mississippi ahead of runoff | GOP wipeout in Orange County | Ortiz Jones concedes in Texas House race Manual electoral process results in higher voter trust, says pollster DeSantis: GOP voters overcame 'blue wave' spurred by Andrew Gillum MORE, marking a major win for the GOP in their bid to hold on to the top job in the nation's largest swing state.

"Earlier this evening, I called Mr. Ron DeSantis and congratulated him on what we expect will be him as the next governor of the great state of Florida," Gillum told supporters Tuesday night. "I want you to know that in spite of our congratulating him on his victory this evening, nothing we believe in has been compromised."

DeSantis's apparent victory is a key accomplishment for Republicans, who feared that an energetic Democratic base and dissatisfaction with President TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE among moderate voters could cost them the governorship in the country's third-most-populous state.

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The win is also likely to be seen as a bellwether for Trump's support in the nation's largest swing state ahead of his 2020 reelection bid. With 29 electoral votes, Florida is seen as a decisive battleground in presidential elections — and one Trump is eager to hold on to after winning the state in 2016.

The race between DeSantis and Gillum pitted two candidates from dueling ends of the political spectrum. 

DeSantis, a former congressman who raised his national profile through frequent appearances on Fox News, cast himself as an intensely loyal ally of the president, building large parts of his campaign around a vow to cooperate with the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, Gillum, who secured the endorsement of Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Energy: EPA official steps down after indictment on ethics charges | Sanders to hold town hall on climate | Zinke slams 'environmental radicals' for fires Sanders to host town hall on climate change Sanders on 2020 White House bid: 'We're looking at it' MORE (I-Vt.) earlier this year, campaigned on a message of increasing corporate taxes in the state, raising the minimum wage to $15 and expanding Medicaid. If elected, Gillum would have been Florida's first African-American governor.

The race was replete with bitter partisan politics and racial overtones. DeSantis came under fire repeatedly for race-related controversies, beginning the day after the Aug. 28 primary when he said on Fox News that voters should not "monkey this up" by electing Gillum. 

In his victory speech on Tuesday night, DeSantis sought to portray himself as someone who would be a governor for everyone and addressed the bitter nature of his battle against Gillum.

“Political campaigns are a rough business and are often about highlighting our differences, and unfortunately these days they often spiral into downright demagoguery,” DeSantis said.

“We need to build a Florida that’s cleaner, safer, stronger, and that’ll be my guiding light as governor,” he said.

For his part, Gillum faced criticism over an ongoing FBI investigation into suspected corruption in Tallahassee City Hall. He has repeatedly said that he is not a focus of that probe. Still, questions about his leadership and ties to targets of the investigation loomed large over his campaign for governor.

Public polls consistently showed a tight race, though Gillum often held narrow leads over DeSantis. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, put the race in the "toss-up" column.

As vote counts rolled in on Tuesday night, the race remained close. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Gillum and DeSantis remained separated by a single point — though one that the Tallahassee mayor appeared unlikely to gain.

“I sincerely regret that I couldn’t bring it home for you,” Gillum told supporters, drawing cheers and applause. “But I can guarantee you this, I’m not going anywhere.”