Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the first prominent candidate to jump into the 2018 governor’s race Wednesday, beginning a 17-month march to what could be a crowded primary for the nomination of the state’s struggling Democratic Party.
“I can’t wait to be able to move forward a vision in this state that puts people to work at every rung on the income level,” Gillum said in a short video released by his campaign Wednesday morning. “That’s what I want to do for the state of Florida.”
Gillum also mentioned infrastructure and education in the largely autobiographical video, which runs nearly six minutes.
If elected, Gillum would be the first black governor in Florida history. But even before he has a chance to try to break Democrats’ 20-year losing streak in gubernatorial races, he could have to navigate a primary featuring higher-profile candidates like trial lawyer John Morgan and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.
Gillum, 37, has been laying the groundwork for a statewide run for months. He laced into term-limited Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — a Republican frontrunner for governor — in a speech to Florida Democrats at the party’s national convention last summer. And Gillum has become increasingly outspoken about progressive causes.
But Gillum, who was elected mayor in 2014, comes from the state’s isolated capital city, nestled in a sparsely populated media market.
“He’s very well-known in his metropolitan area, but not very well-known throughout the rest of the state,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political-science professor at the University of Central Florida.
Jewett said Gillum could gain an advantage by getting into the race early. It could also prompt Morgan, Graham and other candidates to consider their own timelines for decisions and join the fight for endorsements and campaign donations.
“Once somebody jumps in, other potential candidates begin feeling a little more pressure to make their plans clear,” Jewett said.
Alison Morano, a Jacksonville-based Democratic strategist who has not decided whom to support in 2018, said she was glad that Gillum entered the race. She credited him with being a strong leader and a good listener.
But Morano said one of Gillum’s notable qualities could also have a downside.
“He’s a great, really strong young leader,” she said. “He’s also young.”
While perhaps not quite an endorsement, Gillum received some kind words from Julian Castro, a former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor seen as a rising star in the national party.
“Andrew would be a fantastic Governor,” Castro tweeted.
The Republican Governors Association was also quick to pounce, pointing out that Gillum had already been forced to apologize for using city-bought software to send out political emails for a Hillary Clinton campaign event. The GOP group also highlighted questions raised by Politico Florida about whether Gillum’s launch video was produced before he filed for governor — a potential violation of campaign-finance laws.
“Florida’s next governor should be someone who will uphold the rule of law and uphold the public’s trust in its elected leaders,” the association said. “Andrew Gillum has already failed that test.”
Other candidates have been ramping up their nascent campaigns. Morgan has begun a “talking tour” of the state, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is scheduled to address Palm Beach County Democrats on Thursday.
Democrats are eager to gain control of the governor’s mansion for the first time since the late Lawton Chiles won re-election in 1994. For the past six years, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been the party’s only statewide elected official. Scott, who is barred from running for re-election, is likely to run against Nelson in 2018.