On July 9, I published “The ‘big picture’ predictions on Election 2018,” which shared the reasons I thought Andrew Gillum would win the Democratic primary for governor.
Throughout the summer, I tweeted about why I thought Gillum would win the primary election and the rationale behind it, which I retweeted on election night after the results flowed in.
Where do I stand now?
I think Gillum carries the advantage going into the general election, but I do not believe Ron DeSantis faces any challenges that Adam Putnam would not have faced.
First, let’s forecast the rise of Andrew Gillum.
Gillum is going to quickly become a national Democratic icon and people will start floating his name as a 2020 presidential nominee. The energy around Gillum in Democratic circles will be intense as he is a better-looking and more rhetorically-polished Bernie Sanders. Gillum may offer fringe left beliefs, but he does not look or sound fringe.
The bane of Democratic politics in Florida is voter turnout.
While Democrats outnumber Republicans, they can rarely achieve high enough turnout rates to beat Republicans statewide. Gillum, like Barack Obama, brings “once in a generation” excitement to minority communities that will be thrilled to vote for Florida’s first black governor.
Let’s call this strategy the “Barack Obama,” where a candidate can use star power and inspirational messaging to drive turnout among low-propensity voters.
The FBI investigation and corruption charges are unlikely to hold weight with voters who have low confidence in the FBI and dismiss information they don’t like as “Fake News.”
At best, Gillum’s mayoral record can be used to motivate Republican voters, but it is unlikely to deter Democrats.
Finally, Gillum is going to benefit from any attack tweets issued by Donald Trump, as this will provide him with national earned media and drive home the narrative that he is the nation’s premier anti-Trump candidate.
The DeSantis campaign should work with the White House as much as possible to focus presidential messaging about Gillum around the FBI investigation and corruption charges. By doing so, the media will begin to talk about those issues, and Gillum will be forced to answer an attack on his record and not merely respond to Trump.
To win, Gillum needs to focus on voter turnout and not make unforced errors in the media or in debates.
Now, let’s take a look at DeSantis.
As a Republican, DeSantis has two valid strategic options that will lead to a win statewide.
The “Rick Scott:” Move away from the President while also trying to build a coalition of Republicans and moderates around economic issues.
The “Donald Trump:” Keep working with the President to recreate the Trump coalition of hardcore Republicans and blue collar, white Democrats around social issues.
The issue for DeSantis with the Scott strategy is women. Generally, college-educated moderate women do not support Trump. Democrats will exploit DeSantis’s support for Trump to wedge away soft Republican and NPA women.
DeSantis’ issue with the Trump strategy is that it is successful for only one person – Donald Trump. No one can guarantee if Trump-supported candidates are able to generate the same level of support and voter turnout as the Big Man himself.
That said, I don’t believe DeSantis faces a steeper climb than, say, Putnam, or any other Republican candidate, would have against Gillum. I believe that if Putnam won, he would have ultimately pursued the Trump strategy once it was evident that support among moderate women had collapsed.
Ironically, all the attributes for which Trump praises DeSantis make it difficult for him to recreate the Trump strategy. Ivy League lawyers are typically unpopular among populist NPA and Democratic voters in Florida’s exurban and rural counties, just the where DeSantis needs to recreate the Trump coalition.
There are two actions the DeSantis campaign can take to build a Trump strategy.
First, the DeSantis campaign should seek the endorsement and active support of the one Republican who is most beloved in our rural and exurban areas: Putnam.
Putnam draws large crowds in these areas and the DeSantis campaign needs a validator to voters who will not vote for Gillum but may be at risk of simply not voting.
If DeSantis fails to win these rural and exurban voters, he will have taken the Mitt Romney strategy, which is not a winning route.
Second, the DeSantis campaign should select a moderate Republican woman (or Puerto Rican) to fill the lieutenant governor slot – and give that person a meaningful role.
Denise Grimsley and Jeanette Nunez are both choices, offering overlapping benefits. Grimsley is liked among rural voters and Nunez among Miami Cuban voters. There are also several viable options for LG in Orlando that carry deep ties to the I-4 Puerto Rican community, such as Bob Cortes and Rene Plascencia.
DeSantis would hit the jackpot if he finds a moderate, Republican, Puerto Rican woman for his ticket.
To win, DeSantis needs to duplicate the Trump coalition without the benefit of Trump on the ticket.
In the end, Republicans will be working with tight numbers, but they will ultimately have the advantage of a good economy; voters are always looking to keep things “on the right track.”
So, there we have it: Gillum needs to initiate Twitter battles with Trump and turn out low-propensity voters. DeSantis needs to offset the loss of moderate women with big wins in Trump Country.
Joe Clements is co-founder and CEO of Strategic Digital Services, a Tallahassee-based tech company. He is also co-founder of Bundl, a campaign contribution management app.