A surprise outcome in Florida’s democratic gubernatorial primary had Democrat’s hoping to reclaim the governor’s mansion and wrest control from Republicans for the first time in 20 years. The state party’s hopes rested on Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum-- who came close to becoming the first black governor in Florida’s history.
It was cheers, tears and hugs as Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum celebrated his victory in the democratic gubernatorial primary in a downtown hotel back in August.
His campaign energized progressives by focusing on education, environmental protection and a livable minimum wage. In the waning weeks of the primary progressive Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Gillum.
“Not a lot of people really believed in him," said Gillum supporter and former campaign intern Jamie Graves. "According to the polls, he wasn’t going to win."
Graves said she never doubted Gillum could pull it off, despite his campaign never raising as much money as the presumed front-runners -- in part because the mayor had been dogged by an FBI investigation into Tallahassee city corruption that haunted him well through the general election cycle.
“I would ask people to measure me by my actions," Gillum said when asked about the investigation on the campaign trail. He was never identified as a target of the probe and defended himself, even as questions mounted.
I"’ve been elected for 15 years. I’ve had not a smirch on my name until I decided to run for Governor. And now it is I’m supposed to prove I’m not under investigation. I think that’s an unfair standard,” he said.
But that probe would prove problematic and would eventually result in a recent 44-cout federal indictment against a Tallahassee commissioner. Republican nominee, and now Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, would go on to use it to attack Gillum as the two jockeyed for votes.
Of the serious contenders, Gillum was the only non-millionaire or billionaire in the Democratic primary, yet as his campaign struggled to raise money he got a financial assist from Democratic funders George Soros and Tom Steyer.
In 2003, Gillum became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee City Commission at 23 years old. He was elected mayor in 2014 and has consistently rated as a person to watch in Democratic politics. His name was briefly floated as a potential running mate for Hilary Clinton in 2016.
That same year, he addressed the Democratic National Convention. But despite all that, Gillum never climbed higher than third in primary most polls, trailing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine throughout the race.
“Andrew Gillum’s win, to me is very surprising," said longtime election observer and Tampa Bay Times political correspondent William March. He spoke Florida Public Radio station WUSF in Tampa right after the primary and noted that Florida Democrats have a long history of nominating moderates.
“They’re nominating someone on the left side of the field of primary candidates, Andrew Gillum. It shows the extent to which both parties are being pushed to the extreme," he said.
Even with all the excitement, Gillum still lost his gubernatorial bid to DeSantis. He would later end up making two concession speeches, one on the night of the election and another, a few weeks later, after a recount showed him still down thousands of votes.
Yet, all may not be lost. Gillum’s name is now being floated as a potential 2020 presidential election candidate.