Andrew Gillum: Progressive Values Give Voters Something to 'Vote for, Not Just Against'

A Bernie Sanders-backed, African American progressive, Andrew Gillum, has clinched the Democratic nomination in the race to become the next governor of Florida, America's largest swing state.

Gillum's strategy to bill himself as a party outsider, someone who isn't afraid to vote against party lines, paid off. "Look, what I'm facing here in Florida is decades of muscle memory around what our nominee is supposed to look like, sound like, where they are supposed to come from—I'm none of those things—even from progressives who may like me," he told the New Yorker. "They also have muscle memory."

In a night of upsets, Gillum, the former Tallahassee Mayor, beat out former congresswoman Gwen Graham, a moderate who was polling as the primary frontrunner. Representative Ron DeSantis, who ran largely on a "drain the swamp" Trump-esque platform beat centrist Republican Adam Putnam, a career Florida politician.

The candidates encapsulate the two polarized political movements currently sweeping the nation. Gillum represents the progressive movement, led by names like Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, which backs abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Medicare-for-all. DeSantis, meanwhile, fits the Trump mold of candidates who spurn environmental regulation, free trade and both legal and illegal immigration.

In his victory address, Gillum directly addressed these differences. "We're going to make clear to the rest of the world that the dark days that we've been under coming out of Washington, that the derision and the division that have been coming out of our White House, that right here in the state of Florida we are going to remind this nation of what is truly the American way," he said.

"What we are clear about is that we can run wholly on our values," Gillum said on CNN's New Day. "We can talk about those things, excite our voters, and give them something to vote for, not just against."

Gillum, who ranked fourth in polling data just weeks ago, is the first African American to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Florida. He joins Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Maryland's Ben Jealous in a growing wave of Southern black leadership winning statewide primaries.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who campaigned on Gillum's behalf in Florida, said in a statement that, "what has made Andrew's campaign so powerful is that he's not just working hard to win an election, he has laid out a vision for a new course for the state of Florida and our country."

President Trump had another take. "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!" he tweeted Wednesday morning.

Gillum countered the Tweet during a Wednesday Morning Joe interview. Florida voters don't care about Trump, he said, they care about good policy. "We got to talk to Floridians. And largely Floridians who have chosen not to participate in this political process because they don't believe in it anymore," Gillum explained. "Talking about Donald Trump and reminding folks of how bad he is and how unqualified he is for the job that he holds doesn't do anything to ensure that they're able to make ends meet."

But DeSantis, who released a campaign ad that showed him "building the wall" out of blocks with his child, used much of his victory speech to praise Trump. He pointed to his Supreme Court nominees and his work on the Iran deal. "I'd say that's pretty good work for a year and a half, so let's keep it going," he said.

In a Fox & Friends interview, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway reiterated the connection between DeSantis and Trump. "I can't think of a candidate in this country who has leaned in more to the presidential endorsement than Ron Desantis," she said. "He will be a reliable supporter of the Trump agenda."