fightin' words

Risky Business

Did Gillum get Lieutenant Governor pick wrong?

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Polls of the governor’s race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum say it’s too close to call.

Of course, those polls follow up surveys from before the Aug. 28 primary that guaranteed Gwen Graham would get the nomination, so it’s easy to be skeptical. However, assuming the polls have it right (this time), it may be useful to take a look at each candidate’s choice for Lieutenant Governor.

DeSantis picked Miami-Dade Republican Jeannette Nunez for his running mate, and Republicans (including Adam Putnam) extolled the pick.

Gillum’s pick was, by comparison, somewhat less lauded.

Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King didn’t catch fire with voters in the Democratic primary. Despite campaigning statewide for more than a year, he finished a distant fifth, much closer to the results of the minor candidates than billionaire Jeff Greene (who suspended his campaign during early voting).

There were polls that showed King underwater with Democratic voters—higher unfavorable ratings than favorables. There wasn’t really an empirical case to pick King, not like there was for Gwen Graham, the politically moderate former congresswoman and political legacy.

Graham was strong where Gillum was not in the primary, including with rural and Blue Dog voters. It seemed she would’ve been the pick—despite tensions between the Gillum and Graham campaigns through the process. Yet she didn’t even get a call to discuss the second spot on the ticket. And some say that may have been a relief for her.

Critics and pundits, many of whom thought Graham was the inevitable gubernatorial nominee, may have squawked, but it didn’t matter. Gillum went with someone he trusted. Someone he liked. Someone whose ops weren’t talking shit about him. Someone he knew would have his back and wouldn’t be spinning reporters about how he shouldn’t have been the nominee at all if things were to go badly.

Ultimately, Gillum and King look like a ticket—the same age, with a clear rapport and overlapping viewpoints on every issue germane to the state. Gillum and Graham would have been a team of rivals.

Plus, despite the relative shock of the primary results, Gillum’s team may have deduced that they didn’t have to give Graham the consolation slot. After all, where were her voters going to go? It’s hard to imagine Democratic primary voters opting for the thoroughly Trumpified GOP ticket.

No one seems overly worried that they’ll stay home. Even though the Graham camp and the Gillum camp still haven’t figured out how to paper over disagreements from the campaign (which center on allegations that Team Graham was talking shit about Team Gillum), the bet seems to be that Democratic women will come home in the end.

The early reviews of the Gillum/King ticket? It’s a box office draw. They drew 1,300 people to their first stop in the Orlando area; to put that number in perspective, the only other rallies to draw that many this cycle were Gillum rallies that included Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, the DeSantis ticket seems to lack that level of enthusiasm. On the same day Gillum/King were packing ’em in in Orlando, DeSantis and Nunez were in two separate boxes on a Fox News interview.

That said, DeSantis and Nunez lacked the concerns about party unity that the Democrats had. Despite DeSantis having emerged from a brutal primary with Adam Putnam, one in which establishment Republicans pushed hard against what we now know is inevitable, Putnam showed up as slated at a unity rally, offering backing for the man he’d called the “Seinfeld candidate” (because his campaign was about nothing).

Despite Nunez calling President Trump a “conman” in a tweet in 2016 (when she wanted Marco Rubio to get the nomination), and using the provocative #TrumpKKK hashtag to boot, DeSantis somehow papered that over.

Primaries are primaries, but in the general election, the party is to—in the words of 7 Seconds—“walk together, rock together.” Will Dems figure that out? Stayed tuned.

What we do know, though, is what eight years of DeSantis would be like.

The current governor ran as an outsider in the primary, but soon enough became the agent of Tallahassee’s array of special interests. DeSantis won’t likely deviate from that playbook should he be elected.

If I am Andrew Gillum, I’m finding a way to bridge that gulf with the Graham campaign and its operatives. I’m not sure how that’s done, but building a bridge to Graham and her supporters could be the difference between winning and losing.

For folks who want the state to move in a more progressive direction in the next eight years, the only way forward is for Democrats to get it together … before it’s too late.

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