Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum didn't just shock Florida, he shocked the nation Tuesday, scoring a major victory for the party's progressive wing, putting himself in a position to become the state's first black governor.
Gillum's fortunes against wealthier, better funded opponents began to turn after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and a coalition of progressive groups threw their support and money behind him. Among them were liberal megadonors Tom Steyer and George Soros who donated $650,000 to his affiliated political action committee.
With 34.2 percent of the vote, Gillum upset the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a former congresswoman herself. Gwen Graham, who led in the polls for most of the campaign, finished up with 31.3 percent. In all Gillum outlasted a field of four competitors. He was the only non-millionaire -- and the only supporter of "Medicare for all" single-payer health care.
As Politico Florida wrote, Gillum was the only Democrat during the first debate who didn't blame farmers and the sugar industry in particular for the current algae crisis in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. He spoke about the poor communities around the lake who would be affected by increased environmental regulations and less farming.
"Andrew Gillum is rare kind of politician," one Democrat who voted for him told Sunshine State News late Tuesday. "He's a politician who considers the cost to real people, working families who are harmed when politicians prefer sound bites over real policy and slime an entire industry for their own political gain."
Democrats in the race, including Palm Beach County billionaire Jeff Greene and wealthy former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, spent more than $100 million for the chance to wrest back control of the governor's mansion, which has been in Republican hands for two decades.
As the primary neared, progressive groups -- Indivisible Action, The Collective PAC, The New Florida Vision PAC and the Sanders-inspired Our Revolution among them -- banded together to invest an additional $3.5 million in get-out-the-vote efforts supporting the Tallahassee mayor.
Gillum campaigned for a $15 minimum wage and as an outspoken critic of the state's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which he said at a protest earlier this month "has no place in a civilized society."
In a statement Tuesday night, Sanders cheered Gillum's "vision" and cast Gillum as a leader in the broader progressive movement:
"No one person can take on the economic and political elites on their own. Tonight, Floridians joined Andrew in standing up and demanding change in their community. That's what the political revolution is all about and Andrew Gillum is helping to lead it."
"While the mainstream media chose to write off Andrew Gillum because his bank account wasn't as deep as others, or his last name wasn't as famous, I, and people who had more of an ear to the ground knew Gillum could and would win.
"Just like people underestimated Gillum, Florida pundits underestimate those of us who have valuable input in the political climate. I was right about what would happen in the Clinton race, and I was right about what would happen in the Gillum race. At some point the status quo has to acknowledge that they don't have all the answers, and they should listen to what we have to say."
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith