FLORIDA — After a contentious campaign race and an election night marked by reversals as the lead switched back and forth, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum conceded the race to Republican candidate Ron DeSantis, making DeSantis the state's next governor.
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"Earlier this evening I called Mr. Ron DeSantis and congratulated him on what we expect will be the next governor of the great state of Florida," Gillum told supporters in his concession speech late Tuesday night.
"We could not be prouder of the way we ran this race," he continued. "We could not be more thankful for the support that was shown by each and everyone of you along this path."
"We didn't win it tonight. We didn't win this transaction, but what we believe in still holds true today," Gillum said.
Polls wrong ... again
The candidates voters in Florida had to choose from couldn’t be more different, or more far apart on the ideological spectrum. Democratic candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Congressman Ron DeSantis each represent starkly different visions for the future of the Sunshine State.
In the days ahead of the election, every major poll had Gillum ahead of DeSantis with leads beyond most margins of error. But DeSantis and his campaign discounted those polls, relying on so-called "Republican supervoters" in the state to support him the way they have in elections past.
In the end, DeSantis and the supervoters proved the polls wrong. The result mirrored how DeSantis's most important supporter, President Donald Trump, claimed victory two years before over Hillary Clinton when pre-Election Day polls in 2016 pointed to a different outcome.
How it went on Election Night
Election Night started with Gillum taking an early lead. He lead by wide margins in densely populated counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Hillsborough and Pinellas, and that lead continued right up until Gillum conceded the race.
However, the state's rural and reliably conservative counties all came out for DeSantis. His leads were especially large in the Panhandle region, recently devastated by Hurricane Michael.
In his victory speech to supporters, DeSantis called the voter's choosing him as the state's next governor "the greatest professional honor of (his) life."
"Not bad for a kid who started out making $6 an hour," DeSantis said of his win. "The pundit class gave us no chance. On Election Day, it's the voice of the people that rules."
Speaking about his opponent, DeSantis called Gillum "gracious" and "formidable."
"I wish him the best in his future endeavors," DeSantis said.
As Governor-Elect, DeSantis will take office as Florida faces a number of challenges, including recovery from Hurricane Michael, continued red tide and toxic algae issues in coastal areas and waterways, and the appointment of three state Supreme Court justices to replace retiring justices.
DeSantis: The President’s Choice
DeSantis won the Republican Party’s nomination in August thanks in part to a major endorsement. President Donald Trump threw his support behind DeSantis late in the primary race, and it proved to be the difference in defeating Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
DeSantis referenced that support on primary night when addressing his supporters.
"I'm not always the most popular guy in D.C.," he said. "But I did have support from someone in Washington. If you walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, he lives in the white house with the pillars in front of it.”
At the time the Republican primary race was called on August 28, DeSantis claimed just over 57 percent of the vote over Putnam’s 37 percent.
DeSantis has built his campaign around pledges to continue the state’s economic momentum and job growth started under Gov. Scott, to end illegal immigration and “sanctuary cities,” and to protect Second Amendment rights for citizens.
He’s also committed to ending judicial activism by nominating conservatives to the state’s Supreme Court and defending citizens’ First Amendment rights “against those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives,” according to his campaign website.
Prior to his run for governor, DeSantis served in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Florida’s 6th Congressional District since 2012. He is also a U.S. Navy veteran who spent part of his service time as a prosecutor in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Office.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis during an appearance on "Political Connections." (Spectrum News)
Gillum: The Progressives’ Choice
Gillum emerged from a crowded field of candidates in this year’s Democratic primary. His victory surprised many, because for much of the race, he lacked the financial resources of his competitors.
His campaign strategy also differed from most of his opponents in that he kept his message squarely aimed at progressive-leaning voters. While his opponents kept varying degrees of centrism within their platforms to appeal to moderates, Gillum remained strident in pushing policy ideas and beliefs meant to stoke the hopes of younger voters and those frustrated by decades-long Republican control of the state’s legislature and Gov. Scott’s two terms in office.
The strategy paid off, and while addressing supporters after the primary race, he re-affirmed his commitment to running to represent those voters’ interests.
"I want you to know ... that this thing is not me, it never has been and it never will be. This race is about every last one of us," Gillum said. "I sincerely believe that what is going to deliver us to victory in November is the fact that there are everyday, hardworking people in the state who believe that they deserve a voice in our government too, and we're going to give it to them."
Gillum is a graduate of Florida A&M University and served from 2003 to 2014 on Tallahassee’s city council before being elected mayor.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum during an appearance on "Political Connections." (Spectrum News)
Race Ugly From the Start
The race between DeSantis and Gillum has been bitterly contested almost from the start.
Sharp words and rhetoric began less than 24 hours after primary night. During an interview with Fox News the morning after his primary win, DeSantis made controversial comments that opponents interpreted as racist.
“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 this state,” DeSantis said, talking about Floridians’ choice between him and Gillum.
While his campaign later released a clarifying statement, the comments and Gillum supporters’ reaction to them would set the tone for the campaign battle that followed. On the campaign trail and during head-to-head debates, the subject of race came up again and again.
Both candidates found other chinks in each other’s armor to exploit, as well. DeSantis took every opportunity to remind the electorate about an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption hanging over Gillum’s administration in Tallahassee.
Gillum, meanwhile, painted his opponent as a “Trump acolyte” whose tactics were emblematic of the divisive rhetoric characterizing the president’s style of election-year politics.
Hamilton, Horowitz, Final Jabs
"That is what corruption is," DeSantis said during the candidates’ second and final debate on October 24, referring to tickets to the musical “Hamilton” that Gillum allegedly accepted from an undercover FBI operative posing as a real estate developer. "When you get something you shouldn’t have had. And then you give something to people who were trying to influence you. So that is wrong. And he has not told the truth about any of that."
"My opponent ... has run this race very, very close to the Trump handbook," Gillum said. "Where we call each other names, where we run false advertisements."
And as it was at the beginning, race has been an issue to the very end.
“Let me just say this straight up: When I was down-range in Iraq we worked together as a team, regardless of race,” DeSantis said when asked why he’d made multiple appearances at conferences organized by far-right conservative David Horowitz. “We had the American flag on our arm. We wore the same uniform and we fought for the country. When I was a prosecutor, I stood up for every race, color and creed. That is the only way to do it in this country.”
In response, Gillum said DeSantis had “neo-Nazis” aiding his campaign, in reference to robocalls to Florida residents from an Idaho-based white supremacist group mocking Gillum with exaggerated dialect and jungle sounds in the background.
“Now, I am not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist,” Gillum said. “I’m simply saying the racists believe he is a racist.”
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