Florida is the largest swing state in the union and possibly the most demographically representative with transplants from the Northeast and Midwest, along with natives of the South. Plus it’s the third largest state after California and Texas, which are not as representative.
That makes the results of Tuesday’s primaries so intriguing to the tea-leaf reading set. In this case we can see some real actual trends, because it is not just one special election that both sides were trying to make into a national referendum — it’s a mini three-quarters of America.
One big takeaway: The establishment, “centrist” portions of both parties lost big time. The Democrats went all in on the surging socialism elements of the Party while Trump remains a monstrous force in the Republican Party. That looks like the war shaping up in November, as the Democratic base moves toward the surging Bernie Sanders-Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Party and Republicans continue to move toward the strong America First Trump wing.
Second big takeaway: Everyone is jazzed up. The off-year Florida primary broke records across the state for any primary this century — with higher turnout even than in presidential election years. Importantly, the increase is in both parties. The Democratic turnout is up more than the Republican turnout, but in the red areas of Florida, there was a record number of people voting Tuesday.
This is relatively unheard of in off election years and what it portends for November is not so easy to determine. One would have to give an edge to Democrats for historic reasons and greater increase in turnout reasons. However, what we know for sure is that everything could change tomorrow. Mueller could issue his report and who knows what all else. What’s clear is that Trump is turning out Democrats, but anti-Trump hysteria and socialism is turning out Republicans.
Here are the themes from the demographically representative Florida primaries Tuesday:
Trump remains a very powerful force in the GOP
In the race between long-time presumed Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, a favorite of the GOP establishment, and one-time longshot Congressman Ron DeSantis, a favorite of President Trump and the Trump wing of the GOP, DeSantis pulled off not just an upset but a landslide upset.
DeSantis was an early Trump supporter and spent a lot of time on Fox News defending the President and attacking his critics. This is something Trump likes and rewards. Going into the election process, DeSantis was not well-known outside of his Congressional district while Putnam had strong name recognition and a ground game that had been built over many years through the GOP. He’s conservative, but definitely seen as establishment.
Eight weeks ago, Putnam was polling with solid and consistent leads of 15 to 18 percent over DeSantis. After Trump endorsed DeSantis on Twitter and then went to Tampa for a DeSantis rally, the polling flipped by an astonishing 30 percentage points and DeSantis won the primary 56 percent to 36 percent. Not even close.
That’s the power of Trump in the GOP. We’ll find out in a few months the power of Trump in a general election.
Socialism ascends in Democratic Party with nomination of Andrew Gillum
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, daughter of popular former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, was ahead in the polls going into the primary Tuesday. Wealthy candidates out of Miami spent about $70 million combined trying to pass her. But Gillum worked the grass roots, the black turnout, and the socialist/progressive wing and pulled off an upset that left the pollsters, pundits and media embarrassed. No one saw it — other than a little known but growing outfit of anti-Trumpsters called Change Research. They nailed it.
Graham was seen more as an establishment Democrat in the same way that Putnam was as a Republican. In fact, until Trump’s entry, it was widely believed this would be a race between those two. But the establishment in both parties is being rapidly neutered and that was obvious by Tuesday night.
Gillum spent the least of the five major candidates in his primary race and was barely seen on TV — important elements in a state with 21 million people with at least four major metro areas. He relied on a grassroots campaign, the support of the furthest left in the party and the socialism appeal of Sanders and Ocassio-Cortez to beat four other candidates, including Graham.
Gillum is young at 39, and was endorsed by socialist former Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was the heavy favorite among Democrats who called themselves progressives. He was supported by California billionaire environmental extremist Tom Steyer. And President Trump wasted no time in going after him this morning as a “failed socialist,” tweeting out:
“Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream….a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!”
In addition to the socialism label, there are some threats moving forward with Gillum. The FBI is conducting an ongoing investigation of corruption among Tallahassee city officials (it is a long-time Democrat-run city) and no one — including Gillum — has been cleared of anything yet. Will the FBI pull a James Comey and act politically? Who can say in this environment. But that looms out there. Expect the DeSantis camp and allies to use it.
Final point. Gillum was not seen as a threat to win among any of the major candidates, and as such, he received virtually no attack ads and minimal scrutiny by the media and other candidates. That will not be the case in the next few months. (Except for the media part, of course.) A lot will come to light that has hitherto been hidden.
Flipping the Florida U.S. Senate seat just got harder
Everyone nationally is watching the races for Congress, and in this too, Tuesday’s results give the lay of the land.
The race between Gov. Rick Scott and long-time incumbent seat-warmer Sen. Bill Nelson was seen as a strong opportunity for Republicans to pick up a Senate seat and give them a cushion by flipping it to red. However, that goal just got tougher. Having Andrew Gillum, the first black gubernatorial candidate to win his party’s primary, at the top of the Florida ballot will likely ensure high black turnout from the Democratic Party as they can feel something historic to be excited about. It could be a similar dynamic for Florida as was in play in 2008 with Barack Obama.
Bill Nelson excited no black voter ever — well, no voter ever. He is a reliable Democratic vote whose 40 years in Washington have netted virtually no legacy beyond a warm D seat. Scott currently has a small lead in the contest. But Gillum’s presence will almost assuredly deliver votes to Nelson, next on the ballot, that he would not have otherwise received. Flipping the seat is now more difficult to pull off.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.