3 big reasons behind Andrew Gillum’s upset victory in Fla. gubernatorial primary



Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum addresses the crowd of educators as Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, Florida governor and attorney general for the State of Florida attended an educational rally hoping to excite teachers and educators for their vote, on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018 at the Betty Anderson Rec Center in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/TNS)

Andrew Gillum’s supporters and campaign team spent the final weeks of the primary campaign telling anyone who would listen that their candidate was surging, and would end up as the Democratic nominee for Florida governor.
Few people listened.
Then, on Tuesday night, he upset the presumed frontrunner, Gwen Graham.
A multitude of factors contributed to the win, which made Gillum the first black nominee for governor in Florida history.
And in a close race — Gillum finished with 34.3 percent of the vote to 31.3 percent for Graham in unofficial results — every one of the factors had to combine to produce the victory.
Gillum had plenty of support other than from black activists and political leaders. But he had prominent elected officials — including Congressman Alcee Hastings, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam and Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones, strongly advocating on his behalf.
From the beginning of the campaign, he visited black churches. And at the end of the campaign, he spent much of the final weekend in South Florida campaigning in communities with many black voters.
One photo showed Gillum as the only Democratic candidate for governor sitting at a table at a candidate forum organized by the NAACP’s Hillsborough chapter.
Susan MacManus, a retired University of South Florida political science professor, said Gillum benefited from a surge of support in the state’s urban areas, suggesting minority turnout played a role in his victory.
The results also point to a changing Democratic Party that is moving toward more diverse and younger candidates, she said.
“This election reflects a huge generational shift in Florida politics,” she said. “It is clear the older generation has passed the baton to the younger generation of Democrats. This is going to be the bellwether gubernatorial election for a nation whose demographics are changing.”
At an NAACP rally Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Gillum told the audience that it was time to get a seat at the table to bring about real change. Afterward, he was mobbed by people who wanted to take selfies with the candidate, and his campaign staff kept pushing to get him back on the campaign bus to his next event.
The payoff: When Broward posted a big batch of election results Tuesday night, what was a slight Graham lead turned into a slight Gillum lead.
In Broward, the biggest Democratic county in the state, 38 percent of registered Democrats are black. Unofficial results show Gillum won 40 percent of the vote in the Broward. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine was second, with 28 percent. Graham was third, with 18 percent.
Black voters didn’t account for all of Gillum’s win. Statewide, blacks are 28 percent of the state’s registered Democratic voters.
All five Democratic candidates were basically in sync on major issues. But Gillum took the most liberal positions on most issues _ and forcefully advocated that a genuine, progressive stance was the way for Democratic candidates to win elections.
And that endeared him to the liberal base of the Democratic Party.
Democratic state. Rep. Al Jacquet, an early Gillum supporter, said he thinks Gillum delivered a message that resonated with people of color, immigrants and low-income Floridians who have felt ignored by politicians.
Gillum’s oratory talents and charisma also played a role in his success, Jacquet said.
“He brought down the house in The Villages,” Jacquet said, referring to the large retirement community. “This is the kind of guy we are talking about. They’re saying, ‘He’s black. He can’t win.’ They’ve never heard him speak.”
Gillum’s embrace of liberal views earned him coveted support from leading progressive activists _ most notably U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the unsuccessful candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. He endorsed Gillum and delivered a shot of positive publicity by holding two rallies for him 11 days before the primary.
(Sidelight: Gillum supported Hillary Clinton for president).
Joe Culotta, a GOP communications consultant, tracked Google data showing how many people were searching for candidates. He noticed a surge in searches after Gillum appeared with Sanders at rallies in Tampa and Orlando on Aug. 17.
By election day, Gillum had built a double-digit search lead, Culotta said.
Gillum also benefited from donations and spending on his behalf by billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer, and from the Collective, a super political action committee supporting Gillum. The super PAC was responsible for attacks on Graham that labeled her as too much like a Republican to be acceptable to Democrats.
Progressives coalesced around Gillum, and the other outspoken progressive, Chris King, got only 2.5 percent of the vote.
Graham, who ran as more of a centrist hoping to appeal to independent voters in the November election, split that vote with Levine, who once described himself as a “radical centrist.” She got 31.3 percent; Levine got 20.3 percent.
Graham was subjected to TV ad attacks from the Collective, which supported Gillum; the UNITE HERE union, which supported Levine, and from fellow candidate Jeff Greene. And Greene and Levine carved each other up with attack ads tearing each other down.
Gillum, who many candidates didn’t see as a threat, wasn’t subject to those kinds of attacks. His opponents didn’t go after what could prove to be Gillum’s biggest vulnerability, ongoing investigations into possible corruption in Tallahassee government, where he is mayor.
(Gillum has repeatedly said he has done nothing wrong, has been told he isn’t the target of the investigation, and thinks any wrongdoers should be held accountable.)
Jacquet, 38, made a bold prediction for how he sees the November general election going.
“It will be a record turnout in this midterm,” he said. “The passing of the torch is about to happen in 2018.”