Andrew Gillum was expected by many to be an also-ran in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. Now, despite being heavily outspent by his better known centrist rivals, the 39-year-old Tallahassee mayor is his party’s nominee, and has already drawn attention from the Oval Office.
And only hours into the general election, Gillum’s Republican opponent is being criticized for making what some are calling racist remarks, telling Florida not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.
Gillum, who defeated former Rep. Gwen Graham and two other candidates, would become Florida’s first black governor if elected in November.
“I actually believe that Florida and its rich diversity are going to be looking for a governor who’s going to bring us together, not divide us. Not misogynist, not racist, not bigots,” Gillum said on CNN Wednesday morning.
“They’re going to be looking for a governor who is going to appeal to our higher aspirations as a state,” he said, “who’s going to talk about what it means to build a Florida that makes room for all of us and not just some of us.”
Democrats not won the Florida governor’s mansion since 1994.
Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who won the GOP primary with President Trump’s endorsement, drew charges of racism over a comment he made Wednesday morning on Fox News after Gillum’s morning appearance. DeSantis said, “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
The chair of the Florida Democratic party, Terrie Rizzo, tweeted that it’s “disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles.”
Gillum ran to the left of his Democratic opponents in the primary, calling for Medicare for all, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Gillum was backed by Bernie Sanders, and had financial support from millionaire philanthropists George Soros, and Tom Steyer. Steyer has called for Trump’s impeachment, and Gillum agrees. Asked if he thinks Democrats should try to impeach the president if they retake the House, Gillum responded, “I absolutely do.”
Trump quickly attacked Gillum Wednesday morning, calling him “a failed Socialist mayor” and “the biggest dream” opponent for DeSantis. The president also charged that Gillum has allowed “crime & many other problems to flourish in his city,” adding “this is not what Florida wants or needs.”
Tallahassee has seen a spike in murders, but its overall crime rate has declined, although it remains the highest in the state. And city hall itself has been under investigation by the FBI for corruption, although Gillum has said he is not a target of the investigation.
Gillum is the son of a bus driver, and has three young children.
He becomes the second African-American candidate for governor in the Deep South this year, joining fellow Democrat Stacey Abrams in neighboring Georgia.