The Florida governor’s race went from what looked like a 9-percentage-point cakewalk for Democrat Andrew Gillum, in late September, to a virtual tie with Gillum only leading Republican Ron DeSantis by 3.7 percentage points in the Real Clear Politics polling average the first week of October.
The biggest names in the Democratic Party’s donor class are sending money to Gillum’s campaign. Hollywood liberals are sending both cash and endorsements to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. And Hillary Clinton, who nearly chose Gillum as her running mate in 2016, plans to campaign at his side later this month.
Gillum’s grateful; who wouldn’t be? But one Florida political columnist warns Gillum to never look a gift horse in the mouth, unless that horse is named Hillary.
Tallahassee Mayor Gillum surprised Florida Democrats with what was considered to be a significant primary upset victory when he defeated favorite Gwen Graham. If he wins in November, Gillum would be the first black governor in Florida’s history.
DeSantis’ primary win was just as much of a shock to his fellow Republicans and set up a classic showdown between a progressive Democrat and one of the 30 most conservative Republicans in the U.S. House before his September resignation to focus on his campaign.
GOP activist Mac Stipanovich described the DeSantis-Gillum gubernatorial election as the “most nationalized race for Florida governor we’ve ever seen.”
He said the race for governor was an “echo” of the 2016 presidential election, except that it is Democrat Gillum who is sounding like Donald Trump — taking the “most extreme positions, and generating passion and enthusiasm” – while Republican DeSantis plays the role of Hillary Clinton, seeking to extend a Republican dynasty in Florida.
“It’s a referendum on what’s happening nationally,” Stipanovich said to WMFE.
It certainly has been a wild race beginning the day after both candidates won their parties’ nominations, when DeSantis warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up,” which Democrats took as a racial slur or a racist dog whistle. Gillum, an African-American, said it sounded to him like “a bullhorn.”
A month later, a Gillum staffer was fired for calling for Trump’s execution on Twitter and wearing a shirt that called pro-Trump states “Dumbf—kistan.”
Also, the DeSantis campaign was accused in September of texting Jewish voters, warning them that Gillum could be anti-Semitic.
“Newly unearthed comments made by Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s running mate raise serious concerns about Gillum’s ever-mounting ties to blatant anti-Semitism,” the text messages read.
The DeSantis campaign never denied sending the texts out. Instead, DeSantis communications director Stephen Lawson said, “The Gillum campaign should spend more time addressing why they said them and less time about how voters are finding out about them.”
A Mason-Dixon poll released Oct. 2 showed Gillum leading DeSantis by only one point. Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker told the Tampa Bay Times that Florida GOPers rallied to DeSantis because the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings “galvanized” Republicans.
“I think any bounce DeSantis got might have been the result of Republicans getting mad at the Democrats in Washington,” Coker said. “That said, I expect it to be a close race. I’m still not convinced Gillum can win.”
Democrats haven’t won a Florida gubernatorial election in the 21st century. So Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party donors with billions in their bank accounts are riding to Gillum’s rescue.
The Miami Herald reported in early October that Michael Bloomberg would write a $250,000 check to the Democrat’s campaign fund.
“We worked closely with him as mayor, and he was completely fearless in taking on the NRA,” said Marc La Vorgna, a Bloomberg spokesman. “He represents the kind of political courage Florida needs in the statehouse.”
The quarter-million-donation comes on top of a $250,000 check Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety gave to Gillum the last week of September.
And, the Bloomberg money is only the latest big-money-donation to come from the wealthiest of Democrats.
Floridians Barbara Stiefel, Donald Sussman, and Mike Fernandez have all written six-figure donation checks to Gillum, according to the Herald. Democratic Party and progressive boosters George Soros and Tom Steyer made combined donations to the Gillum campaign of more than $5 million.
“He’s a fierce gun control person, he’s been a climate champion,” Steyer said to the New York Times about Gillum. “He’s called for the impeachment of the president. He’s been willing to talk plainly to Florida voters, and they’ve responded.”
The millions of dollars coming in from top-shelf Democrats isn’t the only resource available to the Gillum campaign in the final weeks before November’s election.
The stars of the Democratic Party have been shining brightly on Florida, and the Gillum campaign.
Alec Baldwin, Tyler Perry, Jane Fonda and Norman Lear have all donated or raised funds for Gillum, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Hillary Clinton is going to campaign at Gillum’s side on Oct. 23. Leslie Wimes, a Sunshine State News columnist, cautioned Gillum’s decision to accept the former Democratic presidential nominee’s help could be a colossal mistake.
“Remember the fact that some Sanders supporters felt so strongly that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC tipped the primary scale in favor of Hillary Clinton?” Wimes wrote. “Clearly, some Florida progressives remember, and they are still mad as hell.”
“There were already some rumblings in the progressive community that Andrew Gillum was moving to the center,” Wimes added. “Those rumblings are now a roar. Social media is abuzz with progressives threatening to pull support from Gillum because of Hillary Clinton.”
Clinton lost Florida by 113,000 votes in 2016. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, said her failed presidential bid should teach the party another lesson — never take voters for granted.
“We can’t,” Smith said, “fall into that same complacency.”