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DeSantis Rides Trump Wave To Republican Gubernatorial Nomination, Gillum Wins Democratic Primary

Ron DeSantis is the Republican nominee for Florida governor, riding an endorsement by Donald Trump.

Congressman Ron DeSantis has won the Republican nomination for Florida’s governor and Democrat Andrew Gillum has won his party's primary. An endorsement from President Trump propelled DeSantis over the finish line while the race for the Democratic nomination came down to just a few thousand votes.

Just minutes after the polls closed across Florida, at an election watch party in Orlando it was clear Congressman Ron DeSantis would become the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee. Just before 9:00 p.m., a crowd at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort chanted "Ron, Ron, Ron" as DeSantis and his wife Casey took the stage.

DeSantis wasn’t always the front runner. Earlier this year, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was thought to have the nomination locked in. At only 44 years old, Putnam had served in political office for half of his life. He was State and U.S. Representative, and also the chair of the House Republican Policy Committee before being elected to the Agriculture post. He came from a politically connected family, had endorsements from Florida’s top officials like Attorney General Pam Bondi and many of the state’s sheriffs. He had a double digit lead in early

Then came President Tump.

“I’d like to introduce a true leader," Trump said to a crowd at a rally in Tampa. "A proud veteran, my great friend, a tough, brilliant cookie. True, he’s tough, he’s smart, he loves Florida and he loves his country. He’s going to be your next Governor. Ron DeSantis."

With the President’s formal endorsement -- the so-called Trump Factor -- Putnam’s lead over DeSantis narrowed. DeSantis went all in, connecting himself with the President in campaign ads, including one that showed the DeSantis children building a wall and reading from Trump's book.

The DeSantis campaign was short on policy. Instead, it latched on to Trump campaign talking points on issues like immigration.  Putnam tried firing back. He touted his “Florida First” campaign and blasted DeSantis for not knowing the needs of Floridians. “Having the Trump card is the only card you have, and it’s a big one," quipped Putnam at a gubernatorial debate earlier this year, "but it still means you’re not playing with a full deck.”

Putnam out raised DeSantis and also spent more on the ground game. The Tampa Bay Times reported the DeSantis campaign spent little on door-to-door outreach and yard signs. DeSantis spent only $14 million during the primary, compared to Putnam's $34 million expendatures.

In the end, DeSantis’ connection to Trump worked. “It shows the power of Donald Trump right now," said University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett. "He is the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, the most visible figure. He’s polarizing for sure, but there’s no doubt he has the most impact in the Republican Party."

Traditionally as candidates head to a general election, they tend to move towards the political center to attract independent and no party affiliate voters but "it’s certainly possible he could double down and become more Trumpy,” said Jewett.

The President did win Florida in the 2016 election and a majority of his endorsed nominees have won their elections. Speaking to supports, DeSantis vowed to keep following in the footsteps of the President. "I pledge to you, as Governor, I will work my butt off to accomplish great things for this state, I will show the courage to lead, we’ll keep Florida great and we’ll make it even great."

Whether or not the Trump connection will help or hinder the Republican nominee in 2018 remains to be seen in the general election. Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee mayor, is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. He ran neck-and-neck all evening with Gwen Graham, a former Congresswoman and daughter of Governor and Senator Bob Graham.

Gillum recieved the support of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders who campaigned with him in Florida.

[caption id="attachment_90692" align="alignleft" width="250"]

Graham described her campaign as an "incredible experience." Photo by Amy Green[/caption]

Graham addressed a crowd of up-beat supporters gathered at the downtown Orlando nightclub The Social. Graham said these were not the remarks she had prepared. But she said she already had called Gillum to congratulate him.

"I said, 'Now Andrew, go out and win this damn thing, because this is too important for the state of Florida.'"

The former congresswoman was flanked by her family including her father, former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.


Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.
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