We are finally approaching the end of the truly long and miserable 2018 primary season—it started all the way back in March—and yesterday, voters in Florida and Arizona, two 2016 swing states which will most likely be up for grabs again in 2020, went to the polls to pick nominees for a plethora of races, including governorships and two closely-watched Senate seats.
In the Senate races, Democrats in both places chose establishment, moderate picks who had little opposition. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a three-term Democrat, easily won his primary and will face current Florida governor Rick Scott in November, while Rep. Kyrsten Sinema won in Arizona with 80 percent over a candidate who raised around 1/100th of what she did.
But in the gubernatorial primaries in both states, there was no such establishment candidate with the strength and connections to clear the field. So when faced with the choice of “playing it safe” with moderates in places where the Democratic Party is practically obsolete in state politics, primary voters in both states chose to say “fuck that” and went left instead.
In Florida, Andrew Gillum defeated a slew of rich people, including former Rep. Gwen Graham—the daughter of former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham—to win a stunning upset in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. No public polling conducted during the entire campaign—Gillum announced he was running in March 2017—showed him leading. Only in the final days of the campaign did he even get a polling result that put him in second place.
Gillum, the 39-year old black mayor of Tallahassee, ran on a platform that was unabashedly progressive: reforming the state’s criminal justice system, raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 (it’s currently $8.25), increasing the state’s corporate tax in order to fund public schools, abolishing ICE “in its current form,” and supporting the federal Medicare for All bill and expanding Medicaid in a state that desperately needs it. He couldn’t be a starker contrast to Rep. Ron DeSantis, who easily won Florida’s Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday after an endorsement from Donald Trump.
In Arizona, David Garcia—a former Army infantryman who previously made an unsuccessful run in 2014 to lead the state’s schools—soundly defeated a three-person Democratic field and will take on incumbent governor Doug Ducey in November. Garcia’s campaign this year, as the Arizona Capitol Times wrote in June, is a marked departure from the one he ran in 2014:
In his gubernatorial bid, Garcia is running to the left of where he was four years ago when, as the more mainstream candidate in the general election, he garnered some Republican support and a surprising endorsement from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Now, Garcia is occasionally compared to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — who lost to Hillary Clinton by double digits in Arizona — as he promises free college tuition, shuns big money and backs a ballot initiative that would boost taxes on Arizona’s top earners.
Garcia himself had a good answer for why he’s running a different campaign this time around. “The world has shifted,” Garcia told the Arizona Capitol Times in June. “You’re asking a comparison between 2014 and 2018, but you’ve got to remember 2016 turned everything on its head in lots of ways. There are folks that are out there that are active, that are involved in ways in ‘18 that were not there in ‘14.”
If you’re wondering why Democrats in two bonafide swing states decided to buck the “safe” choice and go with untested, consider their recent past. The Republicans have solid majorities in the state legislatures of both Arizona and Florida. Arizona hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 2006; Florida hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1994. In 2014, Florida Democrats actually nominated a former Republican governor—Charlie Crist, who now sits in the House of Representatives—to face a governor who was deeply unpopular throughout much of his first term. They lost.
In other words, “safe” hasn’t worked in either state in a long time. And while it remains to be seen whether or not Gillum and Garcia can change Democrats’ fortunes in Florida and Arizona, this much is clear: people in these places are ready to try something new.
Here’s what else happened around the country on Tuesday night.
- In a fierce battle over who could profess their love for Donald Trump the loudest, GOP congresswoman Martha McSally easily defeated her two more overtly fascist primary opponents, Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, to win the Arizona Republican Senate nomination. She’ll face Sinema in the fall.
- In the race to replace McSally in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, former Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (who formerly held the 1st Congressional district seat before vacating it two years ago to run against John McCain) won a tough primary over six other candidates including former state representative Matt Heinz, who positioned himself as the more progressive candidate. Kirkpatrick will face Lea Marquez Peterson, who answers questions about being in the same party as Donald Trump by “separating the man from the policy,” like Trump is some kind of problematic painter.
- Former Clinton administration Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala won her Florida Democratic congressional primary over two progressive challengers, in a race that had been closely watched by outlets thirsty as shit for yet another Sanders vs. Clinton proxy war.
- Former Democratic congressman Alan Grayson tried to win his old Florida seat, but got destroyed by first-term Rep. Darren Soto.
- In addition to the Arizona and Florida primaries, Oklahoma had a primary runoff. A whopping six incumbent GOP legislators, all of whom had voted against raising taxes to pay for teacher raises earlier this year, lost their primaries on Tuesday. As Daily Kos Elections editor James Lambert pointed out on Twitter, that brings the grand total of Republican incumbents who lost their primaries in the state this year to 12.