Republicans and Democrats went in different directions in Tuesday’s primary elections for governor, giving voters a stark choice in November. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis easily won the Republican primary on the strength of President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum surged from behind to win the Democratic primary with an energized liberal base and plenty of outside help from progressive groups.
Gillum won over second-place finisher Gwen Graham with an engaging style and by arguing that Democrats keep losing by running to the center. He pledges to invest $1 billion in public education and pay teachers a $50,000 starting salary. He has called for Trump’s impeachment and for pursuing Medicare for all, as well legalizing recreational marijuana.
Before ballots for the general election are mailed in just five weeks, Gillum faces a difficult challenge. The first African American to win a major party’s nomination for governor in modern Florida will be blasted by Republicans as too liberal. While energizing the Democratic base, he will have to convince independents and centrists he can work with the Republican-led Legislature.
Tuesday’s primary shows Florida Republicans are loyal to Trump, as DeSantis won despite being a virtual blank slate on state issues. Those blanks could be filled in during a general election campaign, but there already are clear contrasts on key issues:
• Education. Gillum supports investing in public schools, raising teacher salaries and overhauling standardized testing. DeSantis has no clear education platform, but you can bet it won’t be that.
• Health care. Gillum supports taking federal money to expand Medicaid to more than 700,000 low-income Floridians. DeSantis has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
• Gun control. Gillum supports requiring all gun buyers to be at least 21 years old, which was included in legislation passed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. He also supports a ban on assault weapons and large magazines. DeSantis opposes further gun controls and would have voted against the legislation passed after the Douglas High shooting.
DeSantis’ primary victory is a stunning loss for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was first elected to public office at 22 years old and seemed destined for the Governor’s Mansion. His understanding of the state and its challenges was far superior, and he led DeSantis until the president weighed in. As other establishment Republicans have discovered, the Trump takeover of their party is virtually complete.
The race for governor in the nation’s third-largest state should be based on state issues, not on the president’s tweets.