Andrew Gillum surprises in Florida

MIAMI – To dream the impossible dream, says the song in the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. I know I’m dating myself with the reference from the 1960s, but it’s appropriate after Tuesday’s primary election in Florida. A historical election if you take into account that this southern state just nominated the most unlikely of candidates to represent the Democrats in November in what will be probably the most closely watched gubernatorial battle this year.

Andrew Gillum, the progressive 39-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, won the Democratic primary in Florida on Tuesday after coming from behind, way behind, to defeat a field of millionaires, and one billionaire, who spent money as if it grew on trees to assure a victory. And yet, the charismatic transplanted Miami native with little money (compared to the six others running on the Democratic side) traversed the state via bus to meet the voters, spoke to people in groups and one-on-ones throughout the state, shook their hands, went into the blue parts of the Florida, the purple parts and even the Trump-red parts to assure himself the attainment of that impossible dream many told him was not possible.

The voter turnout was better than the 2014 Florida primary, but still less than half of the state’s eligible voters. Hopefully the general election in November sees better voter participation. More than 1.6 million Republicans voted (35%) and 1.5 million Democrats (31%). Historically, turnout grows larger for Democrats during the general elections. And let us not forget that in November the more than 3.4 million No Party Affiliation voters will also get to decide who they will favor this year.

Click here if you’re not registered to vote in Florida. There is still time to register for the November election.

The race will pair an also relative unknown Republican, Ron DeSantis, who jumped in the race late and received the backing of President Donald Trump. He ended up trouncing the Republican establishment candidate. (In primaries, Trump has been terrific for Republicans across the country. Giving credence to the fact that the GOP is now the Party of Trump. We will see how Trump fares in the general election…)

So it will be DeSantis against Gillum. Some are already dubbing it a race of left vs. right — with Trump right smack in the middle.

But in my view, it’s a race that should be studied by Democrats across the country, especially the party leadership who to this date refuses to acknowledge that what Gillum brings to the table, just like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before him in New York, is a more progressive-minded politician who speaks to the needs of their voters and sets aside the party politics that has divided this country since the days of Bill Clinton. It is the type of Democrat who is winning across the country in the most unlikeliest of places. And it is the type of Democrat, and their message, that should be copied not scorned by the leadership who dismisses the “socialist” label used by some. 

Gillum was not the party favorite. That belonged to Gwen Graham, a middle of the road Democrat that leans right on some issues and who steered away from answering the hard questions. She also happens to be the daughter of a former very popular Florida governor and then U.S. senator, Bob Graham. 

In a decidedly different approach, Gillum addressed the issues directly. 

Healthcare is a right, he said, and he embraces Medicare for all. People who work a 40-hour week should not have to live in poverty; it’s why he’s all in on the $15 an hour minimum wage. Marriage is between people who love each other, not between a man and a woman. Marijuana should be legalized; check out prisons to see who gets jailed for smoking the weed that can’t claim deaths like alcohol does in this country. Immigration and ICE, says Gillum, need fixing. And teachers should be paid accordingly.

The list goes on, but they were all issues that Andrew Gillum took on and addressed eloquently over the past year. Check out Gillum on You Tube and you will understand his is an issue-based campaign, not one against Trump. In fact, he hardly mentioned the president except when asked by reporters. 

To make a long story short, the young mayor of Tallahassee who only weeks ago was polling in the single digits, and who received the backing of Bernie Sanders with less than a month to go in the Florida primary, came from behind, way behind to best a field of some of terrific candidates, all with much more money than he had, and beat them on Tuesday.

Now it’s on to November. 

The only thing left to say is “Vote for Andrew Gillum.”