Just hours earlier, news broke that the Trump Administration was proposing a rule so immigrants already in the U.S. legally could be denied green cards if they have ever used public assistance like food stamps and housing subsidies.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum took the stage before 350 supporters at the Hilton Carillon Park Hotel and used this to show what President Donald Trump's policies mean for "an extremely diverse state" like Florida.

"These are the same people who are telling us that if folks do it the right way, the legal way, that they will be given the opportunity to have access to the American Dream," Gillum said. "We're here to remind them tonight that this is not the American way. This is not who we are."

Tallahasse Mayor, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor, waits to be introduced at the Pinellas County Democratic Party’s Wave to Victory Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times
Tallahasse Mayor, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor, waits to be introduced at the Pinellas County Democratic Party’s Wave to Victory Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times

Amid the hype and the energy at a Pinellas County Democratic Party gala Saturday night, candidates and voters shared a common sense of urgency for making a blue wave in November end up being more than just a slogan.

How purple Pinellas County ends up voting in six weeks, a county Trump narrowly carried in 2016, they say, could determine the trajectory of the environment, health care and social issues across Florida.

"This is just not a ho-hum election," said Donna Dennis, president of the Democratic Women's Club of Upper Pinellas. "This is 'have you voted? May I take you to the polls?' Everything is at stake. Literally."

Along with Gillum, the top of the Democratic ticket showed up in St. Petersburg to energize their base: Sen. Bill Nelson, facing a challenge of his seat by Gov. Rick Scott; Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw; and Chief Financial Officer candidate Jeremy Ring.

Nelson evoked the ongoing suffering in Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria, women's rights, Republicans' support of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh despite sexual assault allegations, and Florida's imperiled environment as issues that should be unifying to voters of all backgrounds.

"A campaign ought to be about hope," Nelson said. "A campaign ought to be about making things better than they are. And that's what the American people, especially Floridians, desperately want us to do."

Senator Bill Nelson waves his thanks to guests welcoming him to speak at the Pinellas County Democratic Party’s Wave to Victory Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times
Senator Bill Nelson waves his thanks to guests welcoming him to speak at the Pinellas County Democratic Party’s Wave to Victory Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times

But winning this county and this state, which also went red for Trump, is going to require reaching the apathetic and undecided voters, Ring said.
Registered Democrats make up about 37 percent of Florida's 13 million voters over Republicans' 35 percent. But Democrats' overall lead in registration has shrunk by half since the 2014 midterms.

Pinellas County leaned blue in terms of registered voters on the Aug. 28 primary, with 232,471 Democrats and 231,553 Republicans. But 39.8 percent of GOP voters showed up to the polls, ahead of the Democrats' 38.9 percent turnout, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

"There's a lot of apathetic voters out there," Ring said. "A lot of voters who believe their votes don't count. Democratic voters who believe their votes don't count. We've got to bring them out."

Pinellas County Young Democrats President Johnny V. Boykins said his group, which was revived last year, has felt a jolt "from Trump being in office."

He said Pinellas County's struggles with transportation and affordable house are microcosms of the key challenges across the country.

Now the group is taking messaging on issues and policy to young people at brewery mixers and community service days to make sure they actually follow through on their distaste by going to the polls.

"We're going to them instead of expecting them to come to us," Boykins said.

Gillum reiterated his progressive platform to the friendly crowd Saturday, urging that his ticket's priorities have the power to appeal to voters of all political persuasions.

He said Democrats can win by elevating his message of expanding Medicaid to 800,000 "medically needy" Floridians and preserving health coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Andrew Gillum speaks at the Pinellas County Democratic Party’s Wave to Victory Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times
Andrew Gillum speaks at the Pinellas County Democratic Party’s Wave to Victory Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times

He called on his Republican opponent for governor Ron DeSantis, or as Gillum called him "baby Trump," to have "a little backbone" and stand up to the president's divisive policies, like the immigration crackdown announced Saturday.

"I believe we're going to do it by reminding Floridians that there are more of us than there are of them," Gillum said. "The 'them' that I'm referring to are the same them that I believe my opponent is attempting to appeal to … those who believe that the only way that they can win is by calling us to otherize one another."

Linda Vessell, 67, of Dunedin, said this election felt different.
It has gotten her energized to do more than just make it to the polls but to talk about issues and show up to fundraisers like this one to support her candidates.

"It feels like we don't even have a choice," she said.