Few beyond the Republican Party of Florida believed former congressman Ron DeSantis could overcome the raucous Democratic and media stampede or the millions of out-of-state dollars behind it. But by 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, when the numbers no longer added up -- when there were fewer than 120,000 ballots uncounted in the state's blue counties -- it was over.
Sunshine State News called the election for Republican DeSantis on Twitter at 9:40 p.m.
Republicans consider it a victory for fiscal restraint and the continuation of Florida's 20-year tradition of free-market principles. It also is a win for the rule of law -- the Florida Supreme Court had ruled the three retiring justices should be selected by the incoming governor, not the current governor. DeSantis has said he will favor constitutionalists, not judicial activists to replace Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis or Peggy Quince.
RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia had told SSN throughout last week he was confident Republicans would turn out in record numbers on Election Day.
“It’s a huge night for Ron DeSantis and the people of Florida,"Ingoglia said Tuesday night. "The supposed blue wave hit a BIG RED WALL. Once again, Floridians cast their vote to keep Florida RED, choosing prosperity over empty promises, free markets over big government and a veteran over a career politician.
"Let’s be clear," he continued. "This election was as much a mandate to continue the path our state is on, as it is a wholesale rejection of the policies that Andrew Gillum was espousing on the campaign trail. The RPOF congratulates Governor-elect Ron DeSantis on his well-deserved victory and we look forward to working with his Administration to continue creating jobs, strengthening our economy and securing a more prosperous future for all Floridians.”
Tonya Fitzpatrick of Port St. Lucie admitted she was gloating in the aftermath of the results. "I have to wonder how many leftist media reporters have egg on their faces and had their stories written with Gillum as the winner. It's 'Dewey Defeats Truman' with a Florida twist."
DeSantis' win was also a victory for President Donald Trump who virtually hand-picked him and supported him through the campaign.
If issues are what help voters decide, then the president cast a long shadow over the Sunshine State. Half of the voters told pollsters the candidates' opinion of the president was a factor in who they voted for. Gillum called for the impeachment of Trump.
DeSantis featured Trump and his policies in his commercials and appearances. He promised to support the president.
Gillum promised to lead the resistance against Trump's policies.
His opponent Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, was the first black major-party gubernatorial candidate in Florida’s history, and his shocking win in the Democratic primary was in large part thanks to the enthusiasm of black voters, who make up a solid third of the Democratic base in the state.
The race was ugly from start to finish, with the Gillum camp implying DeSantis is a racist and the DeSantis camp claiming Gillum was using false racist attacks against him as an opportunity to fire up his base.
DeSantis didn't help himself. Days after winning his primary, he made what was perceived as a racially coded remark, warning voters not to “monkey up” the election.
And the same week Gillum won the Democratic nomination and made history, Florida voters started receiving calls featuring racist imitations of Gillum and apparently funded by a neo-Nazi group based in Idaho to which DeSantis bore no association.
The DeSantis campaign called the white supremacist attacks on his black opponent “appalling and disgusting.” But that wasn’t the end of it. In late October, another racist robocall -- which begins with a Gillum imposter saying “I is the negro Andrew Gillum” -- reportedly started reaching Florida voters.
The racial overtones in a campaign between a historic black Democratic nominee and a Trump-loving Republican became unavoidable. Florida, where elections can swing by a point or two, is 17 percent black and 26 percent Hispanic.
Gillum’s energy and his embrace of a progressive policy platform have been winds at the candidate’s back -- at least, to a point. Polling showed him holding a consistent advantage over DeSantis throughout, though it began narrowing toward the end of the campaign.
There is an FBI inquiry hanging over Gillum, an investigation into corruption in the city where he has spent the past four years as mayor.
The alleged corruption is a labyrinthine scheme that involves the Tallahassee community development agency and some people close to Gillum. The mayor himself has not been publicly implicated, but the probe uncovered unusual stories, like Gillum taking trips to Costa Rica with his lobbyist friends and the mayor possibly attending a Broadway show of Hamilton with his brother and an undercover FBI officer. The undercover officer paid for the tickets.
DeSantis’ courting of Trump more than the Floridians he would govern, particularly in the early days of his campaign, gave him a slow start and an absence of visibility. The campaign never really picked up steam until veteran campaign operative Susie Wiles came on board.
DeSantis represented fiscal stability, a continuation of Gov. Rick Scott's winning strategies to build the economy, create jobs and establish the state as one of the most prosperous in the nation.
Gillum received the support of Democrats with strong national profiles, like Bernie Sanders. His candidacy captured the imagination of progressives across the nation. He received millions of dollars in donations from out-of-state billionaires like George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg.
And being a young, fresh face in a large state is always a sure way to get people speculating about your future political ambitions. Gillum campaigned on "using science" to replace red tide woes and state waterways' blue-green algae plague, on Medicaid expansion, on single-payer health care, increasing the minimum wage, raising starting teacher salaries to $50,000 across the board and hiking Florida’s corporate tax rate to pay for it.
He was DeSantis' polar opposite.
Democrats knew Gillum would have to battle attacks about the FBI probe and the Tallahassee crime rate throughout the campaign. DeSantis' battle, meanwhile, was ensnared in the dangers of having friends like Trump and white nationalists.
Governor's races in America in 2018 show the world who we are, political observers have said.
Gubernatorial elections Tuesday have been hyped as more important than ever. The winners affect the lives of millions of people in the 36 states and three territories where governor's races are being held. Political observers continue to remind us, one of these leaders could be president of the United States (17 previous presidents have been former governors).
Inside the Democratic Party, a battle is raging over both demography and philosophy. It all comes down to whether, in the Trump era, Democrats should nominate heterosexual white men with more moderate views -- who theoretically could more easily appeal to Republican-leaning moderates and independents. Or should Democrats nominate people of color, women and LGBT candidates who espouse strong progressive views and who might better motivate the Democratic base?
Florida made its choice, and in 2018 it almost paid off. It will be interesting to see where the Florida Democratic Party goes from here.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith