Election 2020

Divisive Florida Gubernatorial Campaigns Give Third-Party Candidate New Hope

Former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano talks with reporters March 15, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell)

Politically speaking, Florida is as purple as Barney the Dinosaur. Yet, Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum won their parties’ gubernatorial primaries by —respectively — going after hard-core conservative GOP voters and progressive, left-wing Democrats.

“There’s not really much middle ground here,” voter Rebecca Bellino said to Fox 30 in Jacksonville.

Recent polls show the Florida governor’s race to be a statistical tie. To win in November, DeSantis and Gillum will need to woo independent voters. But maybe there’s another option for Floridians who march to the indie drumbeat.

More than 3.5 million Floridian voters don’t want anything to do with the Republican or Democratic parties. They claim to be independent or affiliated with a minor party. Former state lawmaker Nancy Argenziano sees each of them as more than 3.5 million points of opportunity for a massive upset in the 2018 general election. That’s why she’s running on the Reform Party ticket for lieutenant governor.

“They left those two parties for a reason,” Argenziano told WLRN. “I’ve never seen a time in history when the people who’ve left the two major parties are growing so fast, so rapidly, and I think they deserve an alternative.”

Argenziano, who served in both the Florida House and Senate, has gone independent before. After leaving the GOP and joining the Democratic Party, she ran — and lost — for Congress in 2012 as an indie. So Argenziano is confident she understands the independent, disenfranchised voter if only because she is one of them.

“There’s a whole batch of people out there who feel disenfranchised from both parties,” Argenziano says. “Their perceiving is one side is so far to the left, the other is so far bat crazy to the right that they’re afraid, and they need representation, too.”

Argenziano said she and Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Darcy Richardson charted a middle-of-the-road path, offering an alternative to the progressive gubernatorial campaign of Andrew Gillum and the Trumpian message provided by Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis.

Neither Gillum nor DeSantis has mentioned the Reform Party since winning their respective Aug. 28 primaries. Instead, they are blasting each other as the candidate who should strike fear in the heart of Floridians.

According to DeSantis, Gillum is an anti-Israel socialist who is weak on environmental issues and is so out of step with the rest of Florida that he might as well be from a different planet.

“Fear, it’s their game plan. Scare the middle. Scare everybody,” said state Rep. Evan Jenne. “Whatever region of the state they are in, whatever is most feared there they will say Andrew Gillum is part of. That’s the game plan.”

Okay. But how do you scare an independent voter enough to cast a ballot for Gillum in November? Mention Donald Trump. And make sure the voter sees Republican DeSantis as a puppet for The Donald.

“From racist dog whistles to aliens to child molesters, the past few days have shown Ron DeSantis has nothing to run on except his full-throated support for President Trump’s most wrongheaded policies,” said Gillum’s running mate, Chris King. “He’s proving once again that his divisive, hateful and just plain false attacks are too extreme for Florida.”

What DeSantis and King are saying about each other’s campaign is just what Darcy Richardson, who was Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign manager in 1968, was talking about in 2016 when Richardson ran for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination.

“In the irrational age of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — with the country’s leading nationally organized third party playing the role of apologist for the presumptive Democratic nominee while trying to gain the establishment’s blessing — a Reform Party candidacy begins to make some sense,” said Richardson.

Richardson argued during an interview with WJCT that voters shouldn’t rely on endorsements from out-of-state politicians to make up their minds.

“We can govern ourselves,” said Richardson. “We don’t need Donald Trump telling us who to vote for or Bernie Sanders coming down here with his Christmas wish list.”

“I think most people in Florida would describe themselves, they might be maybe a little center left or a little center right, but most people would probably describe themselves as moderate and pragmatic,” Richardson said. “That’s what the Richardson-Argenziano ticket is presenting. We want to be the centrist ticket for Florida’s future.”

Gregory Koger, a political science professor at the University of Miami, said Richardson and Argenziano’s best hope is to serve as a spoiler ticket. Neither the Reform Party, nor any third-party candidate, Koger said, has much chance of victory. There may be more than 3.5 million people who are unaffiliated with either mainstream party, but that leaves more than 9 million who have declared themselves to be either Democrat or Republican.

“It is possible for a third-party candidate to get into the race and sort of mess up the outcome by siphoning away votes from one of the two major candidates – and in that way might influence results,” said Koger.

However, at the end of the night of the first Tuesday in November, Koger predicts most of the disaffected or independent voters Argenziano and Richardson hope to persuade to vote for the Reform Party will wind up casting ballots for the Democrats and Andrew Gillum.

“Andrew Gillum represents a much more progressive brand of policy,” Koger said. “On top of that, he’s a relatively young candidate and has, I think, successfully energized a lot of voters who would otherwise not be as interested in voting in Florida’s primary elections.”