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Progressive Upset Means A Sanders-Versus-Trump-Style Battle For Florida Governor

Dee Centinaro remembers Congressman Ron DeSantis as a very bright, well-behaved and trustworthy first-grader in her class at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Dunedin 33 years ago.

After following the congressman at five rallies and a debate, Centinaro watched as her “prize student” accepted the Republican nomination for Florida Governor.

“I am not surprised at what he has aspired to in his life,” said Centinaro. “He’s an honest man and he’s going to be the next governor of the state of Florida.”

With 56.5-percent of the vote, Congressman Ron DeSantis has a shot at doing so. His Republican challenger, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, received 36.6-percent.

On the Democratic side, progressive candidate Andrew Gillum, also 39, won the nomination in a surprising upset.

The Tallahassee mayor beat out the other top 3 candidates in the race with 34.3-percent of the vote. Trailing him by three percentage points was one-time Congresswoman Gwen Graham, followed by former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine with 20.3-percent and billionaire Jeff Greene with 10.1-percent. The remaining candidates each earned less than five-percent of the vote.

DeSantis credited part of his win to an endorsement from President Trump.

“I want to thank him for entrusting me with, viewing me as somebody who could be a great leader for Florida, so thank you Mr. President,” said DeSantis on stage.

At his campaign watch party, DeSantis outlined some of his priorities if elected governor, including making Florida the destination for economic opportunity, cleaning up the environment, shutting down sanctuary cities and ensuring schools are safe.

“We are going to make sure that we at the state level can do whatever we can to keep the kids safe,” said DeSantis. “We have to do that.”

Putnam, in his concession speech, said he will help rally support for DeSantis this November.

“He’s a veteran, he’s a solid conservative, and he will need our help in November,” said Putnam. “This is the Florida that I know, this is the Florida that we all love, and we’ve dedicated ourselves to serve.”

Gillum got straight to the issues in his victory speech in Tallahassee. One item on his agenda is a plan to strengthen the department of environmental protection.

“There is not a profit margin in the state of Florida that ought to be able to rob us of those elements: clean water, clean air, good oceans,” Gillum said.

Gwen Graham, a former congresswoman and daughter of former governor Bob Graham, conceded the race from Orlando. She called for Democrats to rally in support of their new nominee.

“I give you my word that whatever Andrew asks of me, I will do, because this election again is about Florida, the future of Florida,” Graham said. “That’s what we were fighting for. It was never about the candidate.”

Gillum campaigned on a platform of Medicare for all and $1 billion dollars of tax money pledged to improve schools.

The Florida gubernatorial race is now pitting Bernie-style progressivism against Trump-era Republicanism on the ballot Nov. 6.

Read more of WUFT's coverage of campaign 2018.

Grace is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing grace.king@ufl.edu.
Dolores is a reporter for WUFT who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.