Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum returned to the trail Thursday, his first active campaigning since Hurricane Michael.
The Tallahassee Mayor resumed his campaign with a rally at a Jacksonville church, his first of two stops in the city Thursday afternoon, with a fundraiser in between the two public events.
It’s not a moment too soon for Gillum’s candidacy.
The race is too close to call: the latest from St. Pete Polls shows Gillum up one point (47-46), but down four (45-49) against Republican Ron DeSantis with people who have already voted.
The fundraising race is similarly competitive, though DeSantis is surging, with $8 million of receipts in his most recent weekly report, even as Gillum is still enjoying strong support from deep-pocketed progressives (such as Tom Steyer, who just moved another $2 million to Gillum recently).
In the packed church Thursday afternoon, Gillum and Lt. Gov. nominee Chris King were in GOTV mode, despite a delayed arrival, with Gillum firing up the crowd.
“We have to speak truth to power. We’re not running for governor to make history. We’re running for Governor to change outcomes … to flip this state,” Gillum said. “The cavalry is here, and we want our place at the table. And if we don’t get it, we will build our own table.”
“I was always told that if you were not at the table, it means you’re on the menu. Folks, it’s time to get off the menu,” Gillum said.
We caught up with Gillum after his afternoon remarks, ahead of an evening speech to the NAACP.
Those remarks: Gillum’s first campaign oratory in 11 days, a lifetime in politics.
Now that Tallahassee’s power is restored and the community’s storm recovery is well underway, Gillum felt comfortable getting back on the trail, he said.
“It’s the right thing to do and now go out there and make the closing case to voters,” Gillum said. “What I say on the stump doesn’t change. I think it’s a message you can say in red counties and blue counties and purple counties all across the state of Florida.”
“We’re not shrinking from who we are or what we believe,” Gillum said. “We’re leaning into it.”
The Republican strategy, from the time the storm was imminent until well after it passed, was to drive up Gillum’s negatives even as he was occupied with storm prep and recovery.
Brutal ads about the FBI investigation into Tallahassee city politics and delayed power restoration after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine were in heavy rotation, and the end result has been an uninterrupted block of time where the candidate’s negatives have increased.
We asked if Gillum was worried that the swing voters may have swung the other way. He was not.
“We’re going to continue to move around and talk to them,” Gillum said. “The Republicans did something that most respectable parties and candidates in this state have not done.”
“During times of natural disasters,” Gillum said, “political organizations, parties, candidates and campaigns stand down from negative campaigning.”
“My opponents went headfirst into it,” Gillum noted. “It was a calculation that they made.”
“I’ve always said that we were destined to see a tightening in this race. I don’t think polls tell us everything. In fact, I think they tell us very little.”
“There wasn’t a single poll in the primary that showed me leading or winning,” Gillum noted. “But we won it. And we’re going to win the [general election] the same way.”
“The polls are capturing something, but they aren’t capturing the immense energy on the ground. The reason that people didn’t see us coming is because we had 150,000 voters who voted either for the first time or hadn’t voted in the last three elections,” Gillum said.
“We’re going to double that number in the general election. We’re going to win the race for Governor. And we’re going to do that by bringing more voters to the polls,” Gillum said, including “disaffected Republicans,” such as those who might have caught his speeches in Putnam County, Flagler County, or the Villages.
Gillum’s next stop: the NAACP dinner in Downtown Jacksonville, a packed large conference room at the Hyatt Regency, where the candidate was greeted as a conquering hero.
The mood was jovial.
“The five B’s of public speaking are simply ‘be brief, brother, be brief’,” Gillum said, to laughter and applause.
“This moment would not be possible,” Gillum said regarding his candidacy, “without the NAACP.”
Gillum discussed “professionals … breaking down barriers” who came before him, pivoting into a discussion of people who “didn’t think I had the right pedigree … didn’t think I had what it took.”
“It’s your demonstrated excellence,” Gillum said, that allowed “people to take me seriously.”
Gillum then went into autobiography: economic struggles growing up in Richmond Heights, with his parents “doing everything they could to make a way for me and my siblings.”
For those who have followed this historic campaign for the last year and a half, these are familiar assertions. Yet to this crowd, it was as if they were hearing it for the first time: an American story, one of how family and community transcend.
“There was a belief in the collective, that we were in this thing together,” Gillum said, invoking the name of his just-departed grandmother, who taught him “to live by your own set of expectations, to push on and push through.”
Gillum noted that children, in Duval and elsewhere, may lack that kind of “North Star” to guide them. And, as he has said time and again, those children and their future drive his campaign.
“Our communities need us like they have never needed us before,” Gillum said.
Gillum went through much of his platform, including spending on education, rights restoration for reformed felons, a more diverse judiciary, a living wage, and other social equity issues.
“Forty four percent of people in this state say that they can’t make ends meet,” Gillum said, hearkening back to his own childhood, where he watched his parents decide which bill needed to be paid to keep a utility from being cut off.
“If you get up every day and work a 40 hour week to support your family, you should not be paid poverty wages,” Gillum said.
In under three weeks, voters face a stark choice on the ballot. We will know then whether Gillum’s vision prevails.