TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's race for governor comes down to a conservative congressman backed by President Donald Trump and a once little-known liberal who hopes to become the state's first black governor.
The race between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who both defeated better known rivals in their primaries Tuesday, gives voters a stark contrast as both parties chose nominees from their fringes.
DeSantis came from behind with the help of Trump to beat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who campaigned longer, raised more money and built the support of the party establishment. Gillum stunned a field of five that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who was hoping to become the state's first female governor and win the seat once held by her father, Bob Graham.
Gillum spent the least of the major candidates and barely mounted a television campaign, but he won the hearts of groups that call themselves progressives and was given a late boost by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"Tonight, we proved what's possible when people come together & show up to build FL into a better state for all," Gillum tweeted.
DeSantis came out fighting after his victory, lashing out at Gillum as "way, way, way too liberal for the state of Florida."
"That is not what Floridians want," DeSantis told reporters. "I think it's going to be a great contrast and we will make sure we take it to him."
The showdown, in a state sure to be a battleground in the 2020 presidential election, will essentially be a referendum on Trump. DeSantis based nearly his entire campaign around the president, and Democrats are using him as a motivation to turn out the vote.
DeSantis entered the race a month after Trump's December tweet that he would make "a GREAT governor." Later Trump held a rally for him in Tampa. Suddenly, he was considered the favorite over Putnam, who seemingly spent his entire adult life building toward the run for governor.
DeSantis' television ads were Trump-focused, including one where his toddler stacks bricks while DeSantis exclaims, "Build the wall!"
Jo-Ann Walker, a supporter at DeSantis' party in Orlando, expressed enthusiasm for the candidate.
"People are starting to wake up and realize what we need for America and that is people who care and who have served and that want to make a better America where we work for it and it's not just handed to us," she said.
DeSantis, who turns 40 next month, is a former Navy lawyer who won his seat in 2012 running as a Washington outsider. He ran for Senate in 2016 but dropped out when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio shut down his presidential campaign and ran for re-election.
Gillum relied on a grassroots campaign and the support of the left wing of the party. In addition to Graham, he beat former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who poured $29 million of his personal wealth into the race and saturated the state with 30 different campaign ads. Also in the race was billionaire Jeff Greene, who spent about $38 million of his own money on the race. Orlando-area businessman Chris King finished last.
Gillum was a 23-year-old Florida A&M student when he became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003. He was elected mayor in 2014.
Gillum did well in debates, often receiving the most applause, but the FBI is investigating Tallahassee city hall for corruption. Gillum has said he's not a target.
The differences between the candidates are pronounced.
DeSantis is pro-gun, and anti-tax; Gillum boasts about beating the National Rifle Association in a lawsuit and is calling for an increase in corporate taxes.
While he didn't make race an issue, Gillum said during a recent interview that it would be "big" to be Florida's first black governor.
"I have been really slow to try to think on it because it's too big," he said. "There will absolutely be a part of this that I can't even put words to around what it might mean for my children and other people's kids. Especially growing up for them in the age of Donald Trump."
Gillum and DeSantis will compete for the office held by Scott, who can't run for re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott had an easy win in Tuesday's GOP primary, and now he heads into an increasingly bitter - and expensive - showdown with Nelson that could play a decisive role in which party controls the Senate
AP writers Tamara Lush and Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - In what could be one of the biggest upsets in recent political history in Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum won Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor, setting up a battle against Republican Ron DeSantis in November.
The 39-year-old Gillum captured more than 34 percent of the vote, compared to former Congresswoman Gwen Graham’s 31 percent.
Gillum has long been considered a rising star in the Florida Democratic Party but trailed in the polls in a crowded primary that featured Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and businessmen Chris King and Jeff Greene.
Gillum told an exuberant crowd in Tallahassee that the next two months will show a contrast between himself and the President Trump-endorsed DeSantis.
“This thing is not about me. It never has been, and it never will be," said Gillum. "This race is about every last single one of us.”
Gillum, who would be Florida’s first black governor if elected in November, trailed in the polls and in fundraising over more than a year of campaigning.
Tuesday’s primary sets the stage for what will be one of the most closely watched races in the country, as Democrats try to flip the governor’s mansion after being shut out of power for nearly two decades.
“I sincerely believe that what is going to deliver us to victory in November is the fact that there are everyday, hardworking people in this state who believe that they deserve a voice in our government too," Gillum charged. "We are going to give it to them.”