Hours away from potentially making history by becoming Florida’s first black governor, Andrew Gillum cast a vote for himself in Tallahassee this morning, where he said if he defeats Republican Ron DeSantis tonight it will mark an end to the politics of hatred and division led by President Trump, and a return to decency.
“Us winning tonight will send a message to Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis as well, that the politics of hatred and of division, of separation, that they come to an end, at least in this election,” he said while standing with wife R. Jai and his three children before dozens of reporters who bunched together on a patch of grass in the parking lot of the Good Shepherd Catholic Church on Thomasville Road. “We’re going to show that people are going out there and voting for something, and not against. And by voting for something, we’re returning (to) the politics of decency and what’s right and what’s common between all of us.”
The Tallahassee mayor is well aware that he will be making history by becoming the state’s first African-American to lead the state, but he said he’ll think about history later, because today “we’re working to win.”
Gillum goes into this Election Day in the unusual role as the front-runner, having led in virtually every public poll but one since he became the Democratic nominee for governor in late August.
In that race, Gillum never led in any public poll, and in fact, rarely finished in second place behind fellow Democrats like former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. Even Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene led him in many public polls leading up to the primary election day. A surge of “lower-propensity voters” – mostly young and people of color, however were enough to get him the 34 percent needed to win in that competitive five-person field.
If the 39-year-old Gillum does defeat DeSantis, it will be the first time a Democrat has taken the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee since 1994, when Lawton Chiles narrowly defeated Jeb Bush by fewer than 64,000 votes.
He was never the favorite going into this election, running as a progressive in a Democratic Party that traditionally has favored centrist leaning candidates such as Graham. And his bold agenda, which includes raising corporate taxes by $1 billion to raise the salaries of school teachers might have previously been a kiss-of-death in Florida. Critics have extrapolated from his corporate tax plan that he intends to raise taxes on all of Floridians, a proposal that he has firmly rejected.
“I get there are some people who have bought into the messages of the president and Mr. DeSantis, but what we’re going to do is grow an economy where people can work one job instead of two or three jobs in order to make ends meet,” he told reporters. “We’re going to lean into the kind of economy where folks can earn enough to not only pay their bills but they can save up enough to take a vacation once in a while. That’s the kind of economy that we envision for ourselves and right now in Florida, forty-four percent of people say they can’t make ends meet at the end of the month. Thirty-six counties today out of sixty-seven are economically worse off than they were in 2007 and so when we talk about a recovery, we’re talking about a recovery for everybody, not just some but for all.”
The race between Gillum and DeSantis turned nasty early on, and in between the racial dog-whistles and reports surrounding an FBI and state ethics investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee, some candidates might not have survived the intense scrutiny he has come under. Republicans believe that while DeSantis has trailed in the polls, they’ll outhustle Democrats on Election Day and keep the state red.
Expectations for Gillum are high – perhaps too high. A Vox.com story published today already is postulating about him being a potential 2020 presidential candidate.
Gillum said today he’s tried to focus on the issues that matter to people, like health care, paying teachers what they’re worth and a “green economy.”
“At every turn, in spite of all the distractions, tried to keep voters in this state focused on what matters. I believe that is what is going to allow us to walk away with a win today. And I’m looking forward to then turning around and going back to those voters whose votes I didn’t get, and letting them know that I plan on being a governor for them too.”