By all conventional thinking, Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum shouldn’t be where they found themselves Tuesday night — the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor — but that’s exactly who they are and, as a result, they’ve turned Florida politics upside-down.
On the Republican side of the gubernatorial contest, the political influence and clout that President Donald Trump and his base can wield in political races was on full display in Florida Tuesday night.
Within minutes after the polls closed in the state’s Central Time Zone and results started to be reported, DeSantis took a commanding 20-point lead and the contest between him and Adam Putnam was over. The national media quickly projected DeSantis the Republican nominee.
On the Democratic side, it was a closer race between Gwen Graham, considered to be the front-runner, and Gillum, who sat in a distant fourth place in a crowded 5 candidate field for most of the race. Gillum held about a 3-point lead throughout most of the evening.
Gillum’s campaign team seemed to know the race was theirs before the polls even closed Tuesday evening.
“We’re incredibly excited right now,” Geoff Burgan, Gillum’s communications director, said mid-afternoon Tuesday. “Democratic turnout is way up, and we believe our surge in the final week, coupled with Senator (Bernie) Sanders’ endorsement, is going to lead to an incredible upset tonight.”
It was a tough loss for Putnam, the two term state agriculture commissioner, who was considered to be the party’s establishment candidate who was a shoe-in for the Republican nomination for governor.
“You’ve stood beside me in the highs, you’ve stood beside me in the lows. You’ve stood beside me in the winding path between the two, and for that, I’m forever in your debt,” Putnam told his supporters Tuesday night.
Putnam had the financial resources and the organization, but he didn’t have the endorsement of Donald Trump.
When Trump endorsed DeSantis in a Twitter post on June 22, the race was turned topsy turvy.
Putnam, who until then held commanding leads in the polls, found himself trailing DeSantis by substantial margins. And while some late polls suggested the race was tightening up in the past week, they were clearly wrong.
Florida Democrats wasted little time attacking DeSantis.
“Ron DeSantis doesn’t care about the people of Florida — that is why he won’t be Florida’s next governor,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.
“For months, Adam Putnam and Florida Republicans have attacked DeSantis for having ‘no plan, no vision, no agenda, no knowledge, no working knowledge of our state,’” Rizzo added. “They were right. DeSantis has shown zero interest in Florida and instead spent this campaign courting Donald Trump, Fox News celebrities and out-of-state billionaires.”
DeSantis and Gillum come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. DeSantis is a conservative, while Gillum bragged about being the most progressive of the Democratic candidates.
“Today’s primary concludes a nasty race to the left by Democrats, while Florida’s Republicans emerge unified and ready to win. Florida Republicans up-and-down the ballot are in a great position to keep Florida red and defy history this November,” said Taryn Fenske, Republican National Committee spokesperson.
In tonight’s other statewide races, Gov. Rick Scott won the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate capturing nearly 89 percent of the vote, defeating “Rocky” De La Fuente.
In the race for the Republican nomination for attorney general, Ashley Moody defeated Frank White by a margin of nearly 57 percent to 43 percent.
On the Democratic side, Sean Shaw defeated Ryan Torrens, 74 percent to 26 percent.
In the race for the GOP nomination for agriculture commissioner, Matt Caldwell won with nearly 35 percent of the vote.
In the Democratic race, Nikki Fried won her party’s nomination with nearly 59 percent of the vote.