DeSantis Tops Gillum After Bitter Battle for Florida Governor

A win by Gillum would have made him Florida's first black governor while a victory for DeSantis could be seen by many as a victory for President Trump

What to Know

  • Florida voters were choosing between two very distinct visions for the state in the governor’s race Tuesday
  • Though they're nearly the same age - Andrew Gillum is 39, Ron DeSantis 40 - the two candidates couldn't be more different

Get complete elction results here.

After a grueling and often bitter campaign, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded in the Florida governor's race to Republican Ron DeSantis Tuesday night.

Gillum made the announcement during an Election Night speech in Orlando.

"I want you to know that every step of this way, even though I won't have the blessing as serving as the next governor of the state of Florida, I still plan to be on the front lines right alongside every single one of you when it comes to standing up for what it is that we believe in," Gillum said.

"As governor, I will fight the good fight, I will finish the race and I will keep the faith on behalf of the great state of Florida and the wonderful people we have here," DeSantis told supporters in his victory speech.

Florida voters were choosing between two very distinct visions for the state in the race, which pitted a progressive Democrat against a Donald Trump-backed Republican in one of the most divisive races of 2018.

The candidates - Tallahassee Mayor Gillum and former U.S. Rep. DeSantis - headed to the polls in the morning to cast their ballots ahead of a day full of waiting to find out which one would get the state's top job.

"This has been a long journey, 21 months moving across the state of Florida, talking to everybody that we can meet," Gillum told NBC's Kerry Sanders after voting. "But that’s okay because what I want folks over there to know, including in the deepest red areas is that I want to be their governor too."

"I think we worked really hard," DeSantis said after voting near his home outside of Jacksonville. "I think we did as much as could be done and I'm happy with letting the chips fall where they may."

A win by Gillum would have made him Florida's first black governor, no small feat in the swing state that backed Trump in the 2016 presidential race and hasn't elected a Democratic governor since Lawton Chiles was reelected in 1994. A victory for DeSantis could be seen by many as a victory for Trump, who helped catapult DeSantis to a primary win with his endorsement earlier this year.

"I'd like to thank our president for standing by me, for standing by me when it wasn't necessarily the smart thing," DeSantis said Tuesday night. "Mr. President, I look forward to working with you to advance Florida's priorities."

Trump tweeted his congratulations early Wednesday: "Ron DeSantis showed great courage in his hard fought campaign to become the Governor of Florida. Congratulations to Ron and family!"

Florida gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis crisscross through Florida on the eve of the midterm election.

Though they're nearly the same age - Gillum is 39, DeSantis 40 - the two candidates couldn't be more different.

DeSantis is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law, joined the U.S. Navy as a JAG officer and was deployed to Iraq, and served as federal prosecutor before he was elected to Congress in 2012. He resigned his House seat earlier this year to focus on the gubernatorial campaign.

Gillum is a graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and became Tallahassee's youngest city commissioner when he was elected in 2003 at age 23. He has served as Tallahassee's mayor since 2014.

The hard-fought election has drawn national attention since DeSantis beat early Republican frontrunner and Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam in the August primary, and Gillum pulled off an upset victory over a crowded Democratic field that included former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Race has played a central role in the DeSantis-Gillum contest since the day after the Florida primary, when DeSantis said on Fox News that voters shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Gillum. DeSantis and his campaign had to deny accusations that the statement was a racist dog whistle.

On two occasions, racist robocalls mocking Gillum went out to Florida voters, and the calls were condemned by the DeSantis campaign. Gillum has questioned DeSantis' association with people seen as racially divisive, including a donor who used a slur against former President Barack Obama.

“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis said at one of the tense debates between the two.

NBC6 Anchor Jackie Nespral sat down with Andrew Gillum, the gubernatorial candidate for the state of Florida.

"I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist," Gillum said in his response. "I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist."

The Gillum campaign, in the final week, cut ties with a campaign volunteer caught on video calling Florida a "cracker" state and saying the campaign was taking advantage of "white guilt."

For his part, DeSantis and his campaign have called the race issues a distraction meant to take the focus away from the federal corruption probe at Tallahassee City Hall and the revelation that Gillum accepted Broadway tickets to "Hamilton" that were supplied by an undercover FBI agent.

"This is an attempt by the Gillum campaign to continue to distract the media from his involvement in an FBI investigation, countless news reports on him asking for and taking free stuff from lobbyists, using city funds to pay for a trip related to his campaign, accepting contributions from an undercover FBI agent and not reporting it in his disclosures,” the DeSantis campaign said in a written statement.

Gillum admitted taking the ticket, but said he received it from his brother and he thought his brother swapped them for concert tickets. Gillum has also said he isn't a subject of the FBI probe.

DeSantis has also focused on a Dream Defenders pledge Gillum signed promising not to take campaign donations from private prisons or the National Rifle Association, in an effort to cast him as an extreme radical. The pledge also expresses the intent to "fight for a Florida that divests from prisons, detention centers, guns and police and invests in the basic needs and safety of it's people, especially its children."

"If you want to know about my record with police, because I have public defenders and sheriffs all over this state who endorse me in this race for Governor, we hired more law enforcement officers so they could do their job," Gillum said at one of the debates.

President Trump has made trips to Florida to campaign at DeSantis' side and called out Gillum in his Twitter feed, calling him a "thief" and the mayor of "one of the most corrupt cities in the Country!" Gillum, who has campaigned with Obama and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has called for Trump to be impeached and had his own Twitter response.

"I heard @realDonaldTrump ran home to @FoxNews to lie about me. But as my grandmother told me — never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it. So ignore him and vote, Florida!” he tweeted.

When it comes to actual issues, Gillum supports a progressive platform similar to Sanders, backing Medicare for all and a $15 minimum wage, tougher gun restrictions, higher teacher salaries, raising the state's corporate tax rate, abolishing ICE "in its current form," and supports an environmental plan that would make Florida a completely clean energy economy.

DeSantis opposes tax increases, sanctuary cities in Florida and has been critical of the Affordable Care Act. He supports the Second Amendment and said earlier this year he would have vetoed the Florida gun-control law passed in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, saying he supported the sections about enhancing school security and mental health programs. On the environment, DeSantis said he isn't a "climate change denier," but doesn't want to be labeled a "climate change believer," saying he wants to protect beaches and water supply and stop toxic algae discharges.

While campaigning throughout the state both candidates have tried to appeal to the crucial Hispanic vote. DeSantis' running mate, state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, is the first Cuban-American woman to be a candidate for lieutenant governor. Gillum's running mate is Orlando businessman and former candidate for governor Chris King.

"In the context of the race, they need a solid Hispanic vote behind them, and Cubans are the Hispanics that vote the most," Florida International University political science professor Eduardo Gamarra said.

But a recent Mason-Dixon poll released less than a week before Election Day showed a majority of Hispanic voters in Florida supported Gillum over DeSantis by 51-40 percent. The numbers were more narrow in South Florida, where Gillum held a 47-46 percent lead.

Speaking of polls, many had Gillum leading DeSantis, but most still have the race extremely close, with many experts still calling it a tossup.

The winner is replacing Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is barred from seeking re-election as governor because of term limits and is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for a Senate seat.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us