Andrew Gillum’s victory in the Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday may have seemed like a surprise. Of the five people in the race, he was the only non-millionaire or billionaire and the only African American. He was outspent and was at the bottom of the polls through most of the campaign. In short, few gave him a shot — except those of us paying attention.
With the exception of Joan Walsh, who nails it in her analysis for the Nation, many of the hot takes have been lazy. The most egregious being that Gillum’s victory set up the fall campaign as a proxy cage match between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who endorsed Gillum, and President Trump, who gave his nod to Rep. Ron DeSantis. Nope. Gillum was an early supporter of and delegate for Hillary Clinton, the “establishment” candidate who beat Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
A close second in offense is that Gillum’s platter of issues is a potpourri of radical socialism — as if advocating for $15 minimum wage and Medicare-for-all was outside of the mainstream of political thought or discussion. For instance, in Arizona, a 2016 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $12 (and to create a right to paid sick leave) was approved with 58 percent of voters. That’s 1.46 million Arizonans. By contrast, Trump won the red state with 1.02 million votes (49.5 percent). A recent Reuters poll showed that 70 percent of the American people support Medicare-for-all, including a majority of Republicans surveyed (51.9 percent). And in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah — hotbeds of socialism — there are initiatives on the November ballot to deliver health care through an expansion of Medicaid.
And let’s be clear, the seeming shift left in the Democratic Party is nowhere near as dramatic or severe as what is happening in the Republican Party on the right. The rule of law is under attack by the president. The liberal international order created and defended by the United States is under attack by the president. Decency is under attack by the president. All are happening with the silence and complicity of congressional Republicans who once held those things dear.
Compounding the sadness over the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the recognition of the death of the era that forged him. The events celebrating his life and heroic service bring into high relief just how tragic and dangerous this period we are in right now.
What has been most irksome about the Gillum coverage is how reporters and political observers seem to be repeating the same mistakes made in 2016, this time with Democrats. They are unbelieving of what appears to be happening. Gillum ran what I’m calling an analogue campaign: not one driven by analytics and stale messaging, but one powered by going door-to-door continuously to ask people for their votes while simultaneously building the infrastructure that would get voters to the polls. Most important, Gillum campaigned as an unabashed Democrat.
“My opinion as to why we’ve been losing is that we keep running these races as if we are running Republican lite,” Gillum told me in June when I interviewed him for “Cape Up.” He was talking specifically about past Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Florida.
“What Republican voters have shown us is that when they have the choice between the real thing and the fake one, they go with the real one every time,” he explained. “And then our voters, the very ones that we need in order to win, we’re not providing them a motivation or a stimulation to get out there and vote for us. Why? Because they’re not sure that we’re for them.”
This is pretty much the same way Stacey Abrams talked about pursuing the Democratic nomination for governor of Georgia when she was on “Cape Up” last October: broad appeal, inclusive message, clear policy agenda and no vote taken for granted, especially Democratic voters who haven’t voted because they felt ignored and forgotten, too. Abrams won the May primary by 53 percentage points. Gillum won his contest by just three percentage points over Gwen Graham, the former member of Congress who was dubbed the “establishment” candidate and was the presumed front-runner. But, as The Post’s James Hohmann noted in “The Daily 202,” “Democratic turnout was up about 70 percent compared with the last midterms, in 2014.”
Look, Gillum’s victory was a primary victory. I get that. And as hard-fought as that was, the general election campaign is going to be tougher still. How could it not when you have a Republican opponent already hurling race cards and condescension into the race? Yet, when following this campaign, do so with open eyes. Something is happening in Florida, in the country and in the Democratic Party. Don’t miss it.
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