Watching MSBC’s Steve Kornacki fly out of his sneakers yesterday as he read the results from Florida counted as one of the few moments of unalloyed pleasure since we Americans elected a white supremacist as president. I voted for Andrew Gillum two Saturdays ago expecting Gwen Graham or Jeff Greene to deliver a victory speech. But the Tallahassee mayor, whom I first noticed last September when he slammed Governor Rick Scott’s handling of Hurricane Irma’s aftermath, barnstormed the state from end to end. In his response to the red tide disaster that has strangled the west coast, he shamed Bill Nelson; he understood that livelihoods depended on how the state responds to natural disasters in large part caused by overdevelopment and Big Sugar in a peninsula with meager supplies of fresh water.
But here we are, and my Democratic friends have begun to rend their garments. Traumatized by over two decades of GOP rule in the governorship and legislature, they thought the less progressive-leaning candidates stood a better chance against Trump bot Ron DeSantis, a mendacious hustler who clothes his children in the leader’s raiment. What’s stunning about Gillum is he grabbed votes everywhere: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County, sure, but also rural Panhandle counties and Jacksonville. Turnout was stunning (look at Lee County, for crissakes). He excited people. He looked and sounded like no other candidate.
Meanwhile Graham, Levine, and Green — jeez, even their names in sequence read like a boring corporate law firm based in St. Petersburg — sounded like every amiable cautious Florida politician whom the Florida Democratic Party in its sagacity has pushed for the nomination since the civil rights era, a candidate that could unite disaffected swing voters and, of course, the mythical GOP voter “on the fence.” My well-meaning friends no doubt treasure how Buddy McKay, Bill McBride, Alex Sink, and Charlie Crist won term after term in the governor’s race after the era of Lawton Chiles, our last eight-year Democratic governor, keeping the state solidly blue. Demanding less wishy-washy candidates but cowering at the thought of how a white voter in Apalachicola might punch her ballot has quashed any flowering of liberalism in Florida.
Know this, my friends: if Graham had won the primary, the GOP would have turned her into Helen Gahagan Douglas; if Levine or Greene had won, the GOP would have turned him into George McGovern. We’ve tried that kind of candidate before and lost. How much worse can Andrew Gillum perform when exactly the right demographic groups in Florida’s most populous counties coalesced around him?
Now, of course, the candidate who had not a chance a week ago has the Chuck Todds of the American press to deal with for the next seventy days. An FBI investigation into Gillum’s community redevelopment agency has revealed influence peddling, none of which is linked to the mayor but he should expect attacks based on the dust cloud and they’ll come fast. That he offered few specifics during the primary I won’t hold against him. You need glittering generalities that excite people. I’m pretty sure the mayor of Florida’s capital and one of its largest cities realizes that ICE is a federal agency, and I’ve no doubt he knows the difference between Medicare and Medicaid; even I bollix the differences in conversation when thinking on my feet. But he’s got more attention now. Voters will notice the elisions, which will do my shellshocked Democratic friends no favors.
Still, I’ll concede that every one has said he or she would vote for Gillum — the alternative is deadly. They understand the stakes. It’s even possible that excitement for Gillum helps the hapless Nelson. But Donald Trump and DeSantis supporters had their worst scenario confirmed: after last night they’re running a white Trump supporter against a black liberal who can count on millions of minority voters.