BRYAN ADELINE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Andrew Gillum wasn't supposed to be a factor in the Democratic primary for governor. Then, on a shoestring budget, he won that primary by beating two millionaires and a billionaire. One of those millionaires was the very well-known daughter of a still very popular former governor and senator. As soon as Gillum won, the smart money was certain that he would be crushed out of the gate by the Republican nominee, Ron DeSantis. Even after DeSantis opened with his racist bullhorn comments, they said Gillum would be crushed. When DeSantis started calling Gillum a socialist, when he said Gillum was going to enact a state income tax, when he insinuates that Gillum is anti-Semitic, when he said Gillum will raise taxes for education, for health care, for this and for that, when he said Gillum will be bad for the environment, bad for business … something fascinating began to unfold.
The polls started showing Gillum holding a slight lead. Then a slightly bigger lead, and a bigger one yet. Thus far, DeSantis has shown almost no capacity to form a policy position that actually seems like anything beyond a generalized copied-and-pasted line from a Republican talking points book which could be switched out from a campaign in any other state.
The result is that, while Gillum is building a solid war chest and ground game, DeSantis had to hire a new campaign chairman last week, one drawn directly from the successful Florida Trump 2016 campaign to get their man on track before he sinks into the muck. Whether or not Susie Wiles can develop actual messages that resonate with Florida voters while keeping her candidate focused and communicative with the press is genuinely unknown. With just a month and a half left before the election, very little room for error remains.
Gillum, on the other hand, has run a disciplined, social media-centric and savvy campaign. He has well-defined policy positions, he has been doing at least a couple brief live videos on Facebook every day, tweets regularly, and always keeps it positive. He's been all over the peninsula so far, and has generated much more funding than was expected at this point, keeping pace with the Republican funding machine. He's lately secured substantial donations from two outspoken liberal-minded billionaires, Tom Steyer and bane of conservatism, George Soros.
It seems Gillum even has some electoral coattails as Senate Democratic Dinosaur Bill Nelson has suddenly seen himself opening up a small lead over his challenger, the current governor and denizen of the undead, Red-Tide Rick Scott. A fascinating development, as Scott has spent typically enormous sums of money to stay even with Nelson. In addition, Scott's been traveling all over the state seeking safe havens away from actual Florida voters as he jumps from his private plane to a bus so as to appear more lifelike and ground-based.
Nelson has done almost nothing besides running a TV ad so sunny and bright that it's impossible to tell if he's squinting or trying to force his eyes to actually reach his sockets. The only real explanation is that Florida, on the heels of Gillum's campaign, is indeed rolling up what his supporters are touting as a leading edge of the Blue Wave that Democrats across the country are working towards.
The greatest challenge to Gillum at this point is not his opponent. It will be the fractious Democratic and Progressive coalition that so far has maintained its support. During the primary, Gillum was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and became the darling of the new Left. But just recently, the campaign announced it will be hosting events with the candidate and another recent endorser who sends chills down the spines of Progressives: Hillary Clinton.
It remains to be seen how such a blatant adoption of the symbol of everything Progressives despise about establishment Democratic Party politics will play. A state as genuinely purple as Florida has a vast centrist vote which flips back and forth between the major parties on a regular basis. Embracing Hillary Clinton clearly indicates a play for that vote as DeSantis continues to hang his hat as a far-right Trump minion.
As October dawns, the campaigns will heat up, debates will be scheduled, money will be spent. How the moves of the past week will translate into support barely reaches the level of speculation at this point. But it won't take long before the trends of the month begin to show themselves and point the way for one of these candidates to find a path to victory.