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Florida Democrats (still) have an Andrew Gillum problem

He will neither go away or advance to the next level.

The Florida Democratic Party has an Andrew Gillum problem.

Actually, Florida Democrats have had a Gillum problem since he surged past Gwen Graham to win the party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2018. His presence at the top of the ticket led, in part, to a raft of losses and underperformances in down-ballot races despite a so-called ‘blue wave’ crashing into many other parts of the country.

Unfortunately for Florida Democrats, Gillum refuses to cede the spotlight.

In fact, he may have just announced he was running again for Florida governor, presumably in 2022, only no one in the state really noticed that he did.

During a ‘DNC fireside chat’ with The Beat DC’s Tiffany D. Cross in Atlanta earlier this month, Gillum said he still plans to be governor of the Sunshine State. “I ran for governor and I still plan to be governor.”

Gillum then acknowledged to Gross, “I don’t think I’ve said this anywhere else.”

Had Gillum said those same words to a Florida reporter like Jim DeFede or Gary Fineout, the tweets about Gillum and ‘he’s running’ would dominate Florida politicos’ Twitter timelines.

Gillum running in 2022 presents a host of problems for Florida Democrats for which they really don’t have an answer.

If he does run again, does that box out Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried from laying her own claim to the nomination? It’s impossible to predict what the mood of country will be in — will it be Year 6 of the Trump administration, during which Democrats should be expected to fare well or will it be the second year of the Biden restoration, which would probably see a GOP countersurge — but Fried, as the party’s only statewide elected official and its titular head, would deserve a clear shot at challenging Ron DeSantis. Admittedly, it’s increasingly unlikely Fried will give up her highly visible perch in 2022, but if she does, she shouldn’t have to worry about facing a primary vs. Gillum.

Yet that’s the least of the Democrats’ problems. If Gillum runs and Fried doesn’t (this is, as of today, the most likely scenario), the Democrats have a scarred, ethically-challenged standard bearer at the top of the ticket during an election cycle when Democrats and even some Republicans expect the demographics of the state to have finally caught up in the Democrats’ favor, offering them their best chance to win battleground congressional and legislative seats.

But if its a repeat of DeSantis vs. Gillum in 2022, Democrats should be prepared for another round of down-ballot losses like they experienced in 2018.

For example, Florida Democrats had their sights set on winning at least three of six battleground state Senate seats, but ended up only winning one and in a recount at that.

With the redistricting process on the horizon for 2021-2022, it’s too early to say which legislative seats will be in play in 2022, but one of them will be Jeff Brandes’ Pinellas-based state Senate district. Because of the county’s peninsular geography, it’s unlikely the composition of the district will change much. State and local Democrats are eyeing the seat as a pick-up in 2022 once Brandes, with his unique brand of pragmatic politics, is term-limited.

But make no mistake, if Gillum’s back at the top of the ticket, the chances of Democrats winning that battleground seat will be diminished.

Similar scenarios will develop across Florida. Because, simply put, Gillum is damaged goods.

The former Tallahassee mayor, who throughout last year’s gubernatorial campaign denied being a target of an FBI investigation into corruption in city government, is the “focal point of a recently issued” subpoena, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The full scope of the federal probe is not known, and being named in a subpoena does not mean a person is under investigation. But prosecutors could be seeking to gather information to present to a grand jury.

The Tampa Bay Times story said prosecutors also want information about Donald Sussman, a hedge-fund manager who donated $1.5 million to Gillum’s bid for governor. Also, they want information related to a Massachusetts-based nonprofit called the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which showed Gillum as a board member on its latest tax records. Prosecutors are also looking for information about John H. Jackson, the CEO and president of that nonprofit.

Given these developments, one might expect Gillum and his supporters to go to ground for a while. Perhaps keep a low profile while, literally, the heat is on.

Nah.

Instead one of Gillum’s top supporters, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, recently took to Facebook to argue that the federal subpoenas were racially motivated. She said she is a “pawn being used by the oppressor” to take down Gillum.

We’re not sure what that exactly means.

Lettman-Hicks’ screed reminded some of the bizarre, defensive Facebook post Gillum wrote in the wake of Hurricane Hermine striking Tallahassee.

Reading Lettman-Hicks’, re-reading Gillum, and re-reading the timeline of Gillum’s ethical lapses, it’s easy to wonder, is it ever Andrew Gillum’s fault?

Yet there was Gillum at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual conference and gala electrifying a room full of activists.

Yet there was Gillum raising $370,000 in May for his statewide push to register more Democrats by 2020.

Yet there is Gillum all but announcing a second run for Florida governor.

He can neither go away or advance to the next level. And with that, he is a weight around the necks of Florida Democrats. And it’s unclear how Democrats will ever be free of him.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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