Andrew Gillum's primary upset in Florida pits progressive against pro-Trump Ron DeSantis

Elections in Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma were all beneficial to the left and pro-Trump crowds

By Matthew Rozsa

Published August 29, 2018 11:05AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis; Andrew Gillum (AP/Lynne Sladky/Steve Cannon)
Ron DeSantis; Andrew Gillum (AP/Lynne Sladky/Steve Cannon)

If there was a takeaway from the Tuesday primary elections in Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma, it was that both the Democratic and Republican parties are rewarding their ideological bases over their more centrist factions.

Florida hasn't elected a Democrat to chief executive in 24 years. On Tuesday, Democratic turnout in the midterm primary was up by nearly 70 percent over 2014. The big winner from that, which boosted Democratic interest, was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who won a shocking upset victory over moderate U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of former Florida governor Bill Graham, in the state's gubernatorial primary,

About 2 million Floridians voted on Tuesday. Democratic turnout was up around 70 percent compared with the last midterms in 2014, though in total more Republicans voted.

Gillum was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and ran as an unabashed progressive running athwart Florida's tradition of nominating moderate Democrats in order to counter the state's presumed highly conservative streak. His signature issues included Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, opposing the Stand Your Ground defense law, and abolishing and reforming ICE.

His Republican opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and received the right-wing leader's enthusiastic support. His rival, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, was harmed by Trump's decision to endorse DeSantis, with one Putnam supporter telling the Miami Herald after Putnam's defeat, "I cannot remember any time I’ve ever been so upset with a Republican president. It was totally uncalled for. He’s going to get himself impeached if he keeps this up."

Trump and DeSantis immediately went on the attack against Gillium, who is the first person in his family to graduate from high school or college.

The president also congratulated another one of his big supporters, Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who won the state's primary to represent Florida in the United States Senate. His opponent will be Democrat Bill Nelson, the incumbent in that senate seat.

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Democrats in Arizona also nominated a man of color for governor, who ran on abolishing ICE. Former state education official David Garcia, a Latino candidate, won the Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Republicans in Arizona were relieved when Rep. Martha McSally defeated two Republican extremists, Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, in the Senate primary on Tuesday, according to Politico. Although McSally was viewed as more moderate and thus more electable in a contest with the Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, McSally had been mentioned by Trump at various campaign events prior to the primary election, even if he stopped short of endorsing her. This allowed McSally to come across as a pro-Trump candidate while simultaneously avoiding the brush of extremism that had been applied to Ward and Arpaio.

Meanwhile, businessman Kevin Stitt defeated former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett for the Oklahoma Republican gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday, according to the Tulsa World. A key factor in Stitt's victory was his ability to position himself as the more Trumpian candidate, both in terms of his presumed outsider status and his claims to being more anti-immigrant than Cornett, although during the election Cornett fiercely disputed the notion that Stitt was more pro-Trump. Despite Cornett's attempt to coin the phrase "Bull Stitt" in response to Stitt's attacks, however, Stitt emerged victorious on Tuesday.

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Andrew Gillum Arizona Bill Nelson Donald Trump Florida Martha Mcsally Oklahoma Rick Scott Ron Desantis