To fully grasp the immensity of Andrew Gillum’s victory in Florida’s gubernatorial primary last night, one would have to have been on the ground to witness the extent to which the Democratic establishment and the media refused to take his candidacy seriously—and the power of the voters that propelled him forward.
Gillum was the most qualified candidate by every measure. He had more years of public service in office than the other Democratic candidates combined. He is the only one who has fought the National Rifle Association in court and won. And, as the final pre-election poll showed, he had the greatest connection with voters under 70.
Yet coverage of his campaign the week before the election either focused on his low rank in certain polls, or wondered out loud if the state was ready for a black governor.
There are similarities to other races nationally, but Florida is a unique political animal. It’s the state that ushered in George W. Bush, cemented Obama’s wins, and swung just red enough to give us Trump. It’s in that context that Gillum won, and he did it by doing two key things. He ran on an unapologetically progressive platform, and focused on “anyone who’s ever been told they don’t belong.” He spoke to voters whom his party ignored, and aimed to expand the electorate instead of exclusively trying to sway returning or longtime voters.
Gillum ran as the only non-millionaire in the Democratic race and to be the first black gubernatorial nominee of the party. He offered policies to expand access to health care for all, invest in public education, make sure workers live with dignity, and protect families from “stand your ground,” gun violence, discriminatory policing, or rogue deportation agents.
The fact that the political class viewed Gillum’s bid as “impossible” says far more about how deeply they underestimate young voters and voters of color than about his actual viability. It also shows that transformative solutions for our state aren’t out of reach.