Andrew Gillum, the upstart progressive Tallahassee mayor, became the Florida Democratic Party’s nominee for governor Tuesday night, defeating Gwen Graham, the scion of a storied Florida political family.
“We can be the David in this situation where there is a Goliath,” Gillum told supporters as he accepted the nomination at a victory party in Tallahassee, apparently referring to the upcoming November general election where he will face Republican Ron DeSantis, a favorite of President Donald Trump.
Both DeSantis and Gillum are 39 years old, and both were the only non-millionaires in the crowded gubernatorial field. The match-up will be a showdown between progressives and the right-wing juggernaut that is Donald Trump.
Tuesday night in Tallahassee, Gillum told a roaring crowd that “You can come from a working class family and you can make your way to the top.”
The son of a construction worker and a bus driver, the 39-year-old Gillum saw an intense surge of support in the polls in the past week, as his campaign hit the ground to mobilize progressive, young and minority voters with the help of the national progressive groups and politicians.
After he accepted the nomination, he promised to send a message of “love, unity, connection, common sense, and decency” to Florida and the nation.
His campaign drew national attention and national donations from groups like billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Florida. Steyer’s group put $1 million into Gillum’s candidacy in late June, putting more than 60 full time staffers on the ground. Last week Gillum received another $350,000 infusion from Steyer, plus $250,000 from progressive billionaire George Soros. Soros previously donated close to a million dollars to Gillum. Gillum appeared with former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders this month in Central Florida’s key Interstate 4 corridor
As the daughter of Florida Democratic party royalty – former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham – Gwen Graham was long predicted to win the nomination to become the first female governor in history and the first Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion in 20 years. She outspent Gillum and was able to secure much of the party establishment’s support early on as a political centrist who took some conservative votes during her one term in Congress. Her loss is a reminder to some Florida Democrats that moderates haven’t always found success at the polls when they run for governor (i.e, Charlie Crist, Alex Sink, Jim Davis, Bill McBride.)
This month, Graham received significant financial support from state and national teacher unions, according to campaign finance records. Her father Bob Graham contributed a half-million dollars this month, and Graham herself donated a quarter-million dollars to her campaign in recent weeks. Emily’s List, the political group which promotes women in politics, gave a late-campaign infusion of a million dollars.
Gillum’s momentum kept growing, despite the fact that he lacked the financial power to run as many ads as his competitors – Graham, Philip Levine, Jeff Greene, and Chris King. Progressives worked hard to elect him. At a Tampa rally for Gillum, Bernie Sanders told the crowd: “You cannot sit back and complain and moan and groan. You gotta get involved in the political process. You gotta work with Andrew to transform this state.”
Said Gillum: “If we’re serious about winning this race, we’ve got to show up like we have never shown up before. We’ve got to vote like our lives depend on it.”
Turnout was strong, with some analysts saying it broke previous records.
Supporter Atira Charles went to Gillum’s alma mater, Florida A& M University, and she watched the returns at the Tallahassee victory party.
“I voted for him as city commissioner, I voted for him as mayor, I voted for him as governor and for him to possibly win, this is so exciting,” she said. “I’ve watched him go from campus to city to state. I’ve been voting for him since I was 16 years old and I’m not surprised that I’m standing her watching him about to win.”
Gillum urged his supporters to keep working hard on the campaign in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election.
“We’re on the way home,” he said. “But we’re not all the way home yet.”
CD Davidson-Hiers and Diane Rado contributed to this report.