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Romano: The far right is meeting the far left in Florida, and it’s going to be a doozy

Tuesday 28 August 2018 21.00

God bless their cranky souls, Republican voters do not fool around in Florida.

They don’t care what the media says or, for that matter, the polls. They don’t care which candidate the big-shot business leaders are bankrolling. They don’t even care whom their own party leaders are supporting.

Back in 2010, they decided they were tired of politics-as-usual candidates and took a chance on an unknown businessman in the gubernatorial race.

Eight years later, their tone has not softened.

The voters who put Rick Scott in the Governor’s Mansion and helped deliver the White House to Donald Trump have now elevated another drain-the-swamp-style candidate by the name of Ron DeSantis.

You want to know how impressive the Republicans’ wrath is?

Democrats have decided to match them outrage for outrage.

For more years than most liberals care to recall, Democrats in Florida have gone for the safe candidate. The centrist candidate. The God-please-let-this-one-win candidate.

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In 2018, that was Gwen Graham. She had the pedigree. She had the moderate voting record in Congress. She had the perfectly cheerful way of using 1,200 words to say nothing.

She was supposed to rise above a crowded Democratic field by virtue of being the most likely candidate to appeal to minorities and SUV-driving white voters in the suburbs.

Except a lot of Democratic voters revolted.

Like their far-right neighbors in the Republican Party, a lot of Democrats decided not to settle. They were going to run as far left as they possibly could.

What does that mean?

You better get to know Andrew Gillum.

The Tallahassee mayor upset Graham in the Democratic primary Tuesday night, perpetuating the blue wave that has seen increasingly progressive candidates winning unlikely races around the nation.

He’s not the typical statewide Democratic candidate in Florida. At least not according to Tampa Bay voters. While results were not complete late Tuesday, Graham appeared to have outperformed Gillum by roughly 15,000 votes in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

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And yet Gillum overtook Graham in the rest of the state by appealing to voters who were apparently tired of supporting candidates with softer, more moderate voices.

Gillum wants to legalize marijuana. He wants the minimum wage at $15. He wants felons to have their voting privileges restored, and he wants to wage war with the school choice crowd.

In short, he wants everything a lot of Republican voters despise.

In a way, it gives Florida liberals a chance to fight the 2016 presidential election all over again. Except this time, with Gillum replacing Hillary Clinton and playing the role of Bernie Sanders.

DeSantis is on the GOP ticket because he has the blessing of Trump. And Sanders’ endorsement of Gillum apparently carried considerable weight for Democrats.

So for a change, both parties are going all-in on the pot.

Do Democrats have a chance this time?

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Possibly, with two critical areas of improvement.

No. 1, turnout in the primary was incredibly strong by Democrat standards. The party will have to carry that momentum for another two months.

No. 2, the state has about 3.5 million independent and third-party voters who did not have much of a say in the primary. If Gillum can do a better job of appealing to those voters, he may fare better than previous gubernatorial contenders in Florida.

If this is what the blue wave looks like, it’s going to make an interesting two months in Florida.

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