Even among the many Democratic wins of 2018, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum suffered what might have been the most soul-crushing loss for the party. After Gillum held a steady lead in the polls in Florida’s gubernatorial election throughout most of the fall, Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis barely squeaked past the Democrat, who would have been only the second black man elected governor in the South since the Reconstruction.
On the same night, however, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to restore voting rights to 1.4 million people with felony convictions. But once DeSantis took office, along with a unified Republican state legislature, the GOP set to mitigate the effects of that amendment; this week, the Florida House passed a bill requiring formerly incarcerated people to pay off any fines or court costs before their voting rights are restored.
It’s a common theme for the GOP: the fear that if everyone’s allowed to vote, they’ll never win elections.
Since his loss, Gillum’s name has been floated around for a rematch with DeSantis in 2022, a run against Sen. Marco Rubio the same year, or even a presidential run in 2020. But instead, or at least for the time being, Gillum is embarking on a much more useful goal: getting everyone in the state of Florida registered to vote, in hopes that it’ll be enough to defeat Donald Trump in one of his must-win states in 2020.
Politico reported on Wednesday, ahead of an event Gillum is doing in Miami Gardens tonight, that a group called Bring It Home Florida has registered as a third-party registration organization with the state of Florida. “Bring it home” was a key theme and slogan of Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign. Politico also noted that Gillum’s PAC, Forward Florida, has nearly $4 million in the bank.
Gillum isn’t the only one stressing the need for voter registration, as the Florida Democratic Party told Politico it would spend $2 million in an attempt to register 200,000 voters by next year, after a series of high-profile, tantalizingly close losses over the past three cycles. Earlier this month, billionaire donor and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided against a run for president, and a Bloomberg advisor told Politico that Bloomberg will focus his efforts on voter registration and turnout.
In addition to being just about the most useful thing a Democrat in Florida could do right now, it’s a savvy political move for Gillum, who’s still just 39. His next move, whether it’s a run for Senate or another run for governor, will still be after the next presidential election. And in the interim, running a statewide effort to expand access to the most fundamental democratic exercise we have is not a bad way to kill time.