Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum cruised to a completely unexpected primary victory Tuesday night to become the Democratic nominee for Florida governor. If he wins the general in November, Gillum will become the first black governor of the state. Gillum will go up against Trump-supported Ron DeSantis, who won the Republican primary tonight over establishment pick Adam Putnam.
Gillum’s victory was thought to be a long shot; recent polling showed Democratic frontrunner Gwen Graham up by at least seven points. Gillum was greatly outspent by several of his opponents, including Miami Beach mayor Phillip Levine, who looks like he’s headed for a third-place finish.
During the campaign, Gillum labeled himself he “only non-millionaire” candidate, and spoke about reaching out to the working class. He was the only candidate supported by Bernie Sander’s political nonprofit Our Revolution and was endorsed by the senator. His platform includes support for Medicare for All, legalizing weed, banning employer discrimination against formerly incarcerated people (as he did in Tallahassee), restorative justice for teens, gun control, and abolishing ICE.
As a candidate, Gillum followed the same playbook that catapulted Bronx Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to her primary victory earlier this year. Rather than relying on conventional wisdom about appealing to centrist voters, he spent time motivating turnout of those who are often ignored by the establishment. The strategy seems to have worked—Democratic turnout for the election broke their previous 1.36 million record, with more than 1.4 million total votes.
“I don’t need a pollster to tell me what to believe in this race. I don’t need a set of message board points to tell me that people are hurting in my state. I know it because I’ve lived it,” Gillum told the Washington Post in June.
“There’s a whole section of people in my state who feel unreflected, unheard, unrepresented, and the things that they care about unrepresented,” Gillum told the Post. The campaign got a boost when it accepted $1 million from billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer in June.
Despite his progressive support, Gillum was also criticized for “dark money” contributions to his PAC, Forward Florida, for initially supporting a coal plant in 2005 as city commissioner (when he was 25), and his connections via a friend to a current FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee.
If Gillum wins in November, he’ll not only be the first black Florida governor, but the first Democrat elected to the office since Lawton Chiles over 20 years ago. In a race marked by the divergence of both parties from their establishment candidates, the campaign will surely be closely followed by politicians and voters on with their eyes on 2020.
“It’s my opinion that the way we are going to win [the general] is by nominating a candidate who has the ability to move more of our voters to the polls, more black voters, more brown voters, more young voters, more purple voters, more white voters, more working class voters,” Gillum said at a campaign rally last week, according to The Miami Herald. “That’s how we’re going to win.”