In Upset, Progressive Bests Dem Frontrunner In Florida Gov Primary

at Bad Robot on March 10, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.
Michael Kovac/Getty Images North America

In the biggest surprise of Tuesday evening’s primaries, Gwen Graham, the frontrunner to become the Democratic nominee for Florida’s governor, lost out to the more progressive challenger Andrew Gillum.

Gillum had won 34 percent of the vote to Graham’s 31 percent when the Associated Press called the race at 9:13 p.m. Around 90 percent of precincts had reported results.

“There were just a few people—just a few people—who said that this moment would not be possible,” Gillum told supporters at a boisterous victory party at a downtown Tallahassee hotel. “And then there were a few more who believed that this thing was possible.”

The Tallahassee mayor focused on a message of unity, saying repeatedly that his win was not about him.

“This race is about every single last one of us, right? Those of us in this room…those who could not vote for me because they may be Republicans,” Gillum told the crowd. “But, you want to know something? I want to be their governor too.”

Gwen Graham was the establishment pick: a moderate former congresswoman whose father was a popular former Florida governor and senator. She was viewed as a middle-of-the-road candidate who could best GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis in the swing state’s general election, which is considered a tossup.

But while DeSantis easily cruised to victory, Gillum ended up exceeding expectations to defeat Graham. Gillum had consistently trailed in the few polls on the race, but scored a boost with the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who joined him on the campaign trail.

Gillum framed himself as the truly progressive candidate who could break Florida Democrats’ five-cycle losing streak of losing the governor’s office. He campaigned on an unabashedly leftist platform of providing Medicare for All, abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency “in its current form,” and reforming the bail system.

If elected, Gillum would become the state’s first black governor.

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