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Florida governor’s race will be proxy war between Sanders and Trump



Andrew Gillum florida
Florida Mayor, Andrew D. Gillum addresses the audience at the
Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. August 10, 2017.

Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

  • On Tuesday, Floridians picked Tallahassee’s progressive
    black mayor, Andrew Gillum, and right-wing hardliner, Rep.
    Ron DeSantis, to face off in the governor’s race this
  • Both candidates defeated establishment favorites —
    Gillum with the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and DeSantis
    with President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
  • Many see what will undoubtedly be a polarizing general
    election as a proxy war between Sanders and Trump.

On Tuesday, Floridians picked their first-ever black nominee for
governor, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, and a
right-wing hardliner, Rep. Ron DeSantis, to battle it out
for leadership of the country’s largest swing state. 

Both candidates defeated establishment favorites — Gillum with
the support of the left-wing of the Democratic Party, including
Sen. Bernie Sanders, and DeSantis with President Donald Trump’s
strong endorsement.

Gillum’s win was a surprise — his strongest pre-election poll had
him at 16% of the Democratic vote (he ended up with 33%) and he
far outspent by his multi-millionaire opponents
, the
strongest of whom spent $12.5 million to Gillum’s $2.5

And while DeSantis’s victory over state agriculture commissioner
Adam Putnam was expected, he managed to secure a 20-point lead
while also being outspent — two-to-one — by his opponent.

GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak called both wins “shocking.” 

“Nobody would have predicted a DeSantis versus Gillum general
election six months ago,” he said. 

The candidates — both married 39-year-old dads of young children
— are running on radically different agendas in the country’s
third-most populous state.

DeSantis, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus
who saturated his campaign with mention of Trump’s support,
campaigned on his military background and deeply conservative
stances on abortion, gun rights, and illegal immigration. Gillum,
the son of a bus driver and construction worker, highlighted his
working-class roots, with promises to invest heavily in the
state’s public schools and fight for stricter gun regulations and

While gubernatorial candidates are often characterized by their
centrism, Florida is yet more proof of the ascendance of the
progressive left and Trumpian right this year. 

Rep. Ron DeSantis with President Donald Trump at a Florida rally in July.
Ron DeSantis with President Donald Trump at a Florida rally in

Joe Raedle/Getty

A Sanders-Trump proxy war? 

Some are calling the general election race a proxy war between
Sanders, who endorsed and campaigned with Gillum, and

While Gillum ran to the left of Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham,
the primary front-runner and daughter of a former Florida
governor and US senator, he was also a 2016 delegate for Hillary
Clinton and
appeared on an early list
of Clinton’s potential vice
presidential picks. 

Still, the mayor ran on a deeply progressive platform, which
included the elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement —
a call that’s
gaining traction on the left
— and Medicare-for-all. His win
— along with other
insurgent upsets
— is a remarkable testament to the rejection
of Clinton-style centrism in the Democratic Party. Also on
Tuesday, Arizona Democrat David Garcia, a progressive who
supports Medicare-for-all, clinched the party’s
gubernatorial nomination in that state.

In Florida, centrist Democrats lost the last two
gubernatorial races by less than a single point to Republican
Gov. Rick Scott. 

“If Florida voters want an antidote to Trumpism, Andrew
Gillium fits it. He’s not part of the Trump-DC-swamp but,
instead, a mayor who got stuff done,” said Jesse Ferguson, a
Democratic strategist and top spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s
2016 campaign.

Rep. Ron DeSantis with his daughter in a campaign ad.
Ron DeSantis with his daughter in a campaign

Screenshot/Ron DeSantis for

Republicans are already characterizing Gillum as far left
of Florida’s mainstream. Trump called
the mayor
a “failed Socialist … who has allowed crime &
many other problems to flourish in his city” in a Wednesday
morning tweet, and the Republican Governors Association on
Tuesday called Gillum a “radical far-left politician.”

Gillum, for his part, has attempted to frame his
progressive solutions to polarizing issues like healthcare and
criminal justice reform as pragmatic, a-political,
“commonsensical” solutions that will appeal to Floridians across
the ideological spectrum. 

Meanwhile, DeSantis recently released
an ad
poking fun at his own attempts to tie himself to Trump.
In it, DeSantis’s wife explains that while “people say Ron’s all
Trump … he is so much more,” while the congressman “builds a
wall” with his toddler daughter and reads Trump’s “The Art of the
Deal” aloud to his son.

A 2020 test

Given DeSantis’s close ties to the president, the race in Florida
this fall will undoubtedly become a referendum on Trump’s
presidency and a test of the progressive movement’s strength in
the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election.

But Mackowiak noted that midterm turnout is traditionally quite
different — older, more conservative-leaning, and less racially
diverse — than presidential election turnout. He argued that
Gillum will need to pivot more to the center than DeSantis

“Florida’s a Republican state, period,” he said. “Obama was able
to flip it, he was a unique candidate … but in a midterm
election year I don’t think there’s a question that it’s a
Republican state.” 

Florida’s Democratic primary will also likely mirror the battle
between progressive and centrist candidates on the left in 2020.
In what will likely be a 2020 primary, Democrats will face the
challenge of uniting themselves behind a single candidate. The
situation is similar in Florida, where four other Democrats spent
tens of millions competing against Gillum. 

While it’s unclear how nationalized the race will become, 
it will certainly be one of the most important — and
closely-watched — of the cycle.

“We’re going to make clear to the rest of the world that the dark
days that we’ve been under coming out of Washington, that the
derision and the division that have been coming out of our White
House, that right here in the state of Florida we are going to
remind this nation of what is truly the American way,” Gillum
told his supporters on Tuesday night.

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