Andrew Gillum made history Tuesday night, becoming the first black candidate to win the Democratic nomination for Governor in Florida.
He will face Republican Ron DeSantis in November.
Gillum, the Tallahassee Mayor, had been considered a longshot in the five-way primary. He secured more than 30 percent of the vote. Gwen Graham finished at 31.4 percent.
The only known scientific prediction of a Gillum win was an internal poll released by his campaign last week, that projected he would cruise to victory with a 10-point lead. Most polls showed Graham and Levine at the top, with Gillum in third or fourth. A poll released by Florida Politics on Monday had him second behind Graham.
According to Gillum’s campaign, the candidate was witnessing a last-minute surge.
Predating the Gillum buzz was news that billionaire Tom Steyer’s progressive NextGen super PAC announced it would be dumping cash into and providing ground support for Gillum’s bid. That added to the support already coming in from progressive billionaire George Soros.
In August, Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont and former presidential candidate, endorsed Gillum and followed up with two rallies alongside the Mayor to help him win over progressives in the Sunshine State.
Sanders chimed in again after the results were official.
“What has made Andrew’s campaign so powerful is that he’s not just working hard to win an election, he has laid out a vision for a new course for the state of Florida and our country,” Sanders said. “No one person can take on the economic and political elites on their own.”
Gillum told a crowd in Tallahassee following his victory that the race wasn’t about him.
“It never has been, and it never will be. This race is about every last single one of us,” he said. “Those of us inside this room. Those outside of this room. Those who voted for me. Those who didn’t vote at all. And those who didn’t vote for me because they are Republicans. But I want to be their governor, too.”
Graham, a former member of Congress and the lone woman in the race, entered the field in May 2017. A former Leon County school district lawyer and self-described “PTA mom,” she made an early campaign promise to fight for public education.
A key component of Graham’s strategy included the resurrection of “workdays,” an approach that proved successful for her father, former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham. She traveled across the state and completed day-to-day tasks alongside working Floridians, speaking to voters and hearing their concerns along the way.
“I was expecting to give a much different speech tonight,” she said Tuesday night after the election.
Graham urged her supporters to “put all of our efforts behind Andrew Gillum,” pledging to do whatever she could to help him defeat DeSantis.
“This election is about the future of Florida,” she said, reiterating a campaign theme. “That’s what we were fighting for. It was never about the candidate.”
Aiding Graham’s bid for the Governor’s Mansion was a slew of endorsements from respected party leaders in highly populated areas across the state. Helping to fund Graham’s campaign was support from the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and other public education interests. She was also aided by women-focused groups Emily’s List, Ruth’s List and the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women. NARAL, one of the nation’s largest pro-choice political action committees, also endorsed Graham.
Levine, the successful businessman and former Mayor of Miami Beach, waged an enormous television and ground campaign in his bid for the Democratic nod. He attempted to establish himself early on with voters, launching a television ad in November — well before any candidate for either party went on air. His 14 satellite campaign offices helped his campaign access every region in the state.
Congratulating Gillum on his primary victory, Levine called the Tallahassee mayor “a fierce fighter who has what it takes to lead our state forward, and he can count on my help every step of the way.”
Levine touted support from celebrities, with endorsements and ads coming from Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen and musician Uncle Luke.
Outspoken on gun control like his party opponents, Levine secured support from parents of students killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. He launched ads ahead of the primary promising to increase gun control.
Notably, Levine spent a bit of time painting himself as an adversary to President Donald Trump. He described the statewide race for Governor as one for “the soul of the nation,” and reminded Floridians of his staunch support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
Levine’s targeting of climate change issues as Mayor also helped shape his platform for Governor.
Billionaire Jeff Greene, the late entry into the race, had missed prior debates and months of campaigning for the election. Despite spending heavily on television and traveling across the state, his campaign appeared to falter in the week leading up to Tuesday. He pulled television ads for a brief period, then alerted media on Monday he would watch the election results unfold privately with his family — instead of hosting a pre-planned public event.
Greene had sought also to paint himself in an anti-Trump light, but was criticized every step of his campaign for his former cordiality with the President.
Businessman Chris King, of Winter Park, ultimately failed to gain support from the electorate, evidenced by his consistently low polling numbers. Despite this, King campaigned actively and helped shape the narratives of the campaign, at times being a trendsetting candidate. He was the first to publicly announce he would not accept contributions from sugar-related interests and was a loud voice for gun reform and affordable housing initiatives.
Some material from the News Service of Florida is used in this article, with permission.