“We’d get up at 4 o’clock, 4:30 in the morning to make sure my mom would be on time driving the bus,” Gillum says in the video. “ . . . Growing up in Miami, every one of my older brothers had some kind of criminal-background history.”
In many ways, Gillum’s candidacy is exactly what the Democratic Party is looking for, said Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida. He’s a telegenic, articulate, young person of color running for statewide office at a time when the party has struggled with turnout among young and black voters.
The open-seat governor’s race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the nation next year. Trump won Florida in November by slightly more than a percentage point, and Democrats are hoping a growing grass-roots backlash to Trump helps boost turnout in a non-presidential year when they often struggle. And they have struggled recently to capture the Sunshine State governor’s mansion —they haven’t held it since 1999.
Gillum has had no trouble staying politically active. Before he had even graduated college, Gillum became the youngest person ever elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. (He was 23.) He stayed involved in city politics and was elected mayor of the city in 2014. If he wins the race next year, he’ll be one of the youngest Florida governors ever.
Gillum plans to pitch himself as the progressive in the primary race. Earlier this month, he successfully defended his city’s gun laws in court after two gun rights groups sued the city to try to expand firearms in public parks. He’s declared Tallahassee a “sanctuary city” for some undocumented immigrants, a move many Democratic mayors and governors across the country are using as a kind of civil resistance to the Trump presidency.
In 2014, The Washington Post named Gillum to its list of 40 notable state politicians under 40. This summer, he was tapped by the Hillary Clinton campaign to speak at the Democratic National Convention, a moment that was largely seen as his coming-out in Democratic circles beyond Tallahassee politics.
“A lot of people recognize that he is the up-and-coming face of Democrats,” MacManus said.
But Gillum faces long odds to turn his up-and-comer status into an actual statewide candidacy. He may be getting some attention from the national party and media, but he’s virtually unknown by Florida voters outside Tallahassee.
And he will not have the race to himself — not by a long shot. Another potential candidate with a compelling biography, former congresswoman Gwen Graham (D), also of the Tallahassee area, is expected to enter the contest. As of now, she’s the only woman who’s expressed interest in running. Her father, former governor and senator Bob Graham (D), is a political legend in Florida.
And in a state where you can never have enough money for a political campaign, Gillum could be at a disadvantage financially. Wealthy Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan is also considered a possible candidate. So is multimillionaire Philip Levine, mayor of Miami Beach. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is also a contender. Outside groups are expecting some $150 million to be spent in the general election.
The Republican side of the race is expected to be just as crowded. Names floated include Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Sen. Jack Latvala.