Tuesday’s primaries show there’s no doubt the Democratic Party is lurching to the left.
The last time Florida Democrats won the state’s governorship was in 1994. With GOP Gov. Rick Scott leaving office to run for U.S. Senate, Democratic Party leaders were determined to nominate a candidate who could appeal to centrists. They recruited former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of a popular former governor and U.S. senator, who had won support from business in the past.
But in a major upset, Graham lost the gubernatorial primary to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who had the endorsement of Bernie Sanders and top liberal donors George Soros and Tom Steyer. Gillum swept the state’s urban areas by targeting young people, single women and black voters – a coalition he hopes to ride to victory in November.
The governor’s race in the nation’s third-most populous state will probably represent the starkest ideological contrast in the country. Gillum is unapologetically liberal, calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage and repeal of the state’s “stand your ground” law, which allows residents to use force without retreating to defend themselves against threats.
Gillum’s GOP opponent will be U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who swept the Republican primary with the endorsement of President Trump. DeSantis is also the favorite of free-market groups such as the Club for Growth. During his career in Congress he has riled some of his colleagues by opposing the use of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual misconduct claims and to give Congress special privileges under ObamaCare.
Despite DeSantis’ maverick history, you can expect the national media to shower Gillum with favorable coverage. Much like African-American gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Gillum will be heralded as a symbol of a “New South” that is progressive and focused on diversity.
Gillum’s big problem will be convincing voters he can improve on the pro-growth policies of Gov. Scott. Florida’s unemployment rate is a third of what it was in 2010. The state has the highest public high school graduation rate in 13 years, and the lowest crime rate in 45 years. DeSantis’ campaign will focus on how Gillum’s agenda could derail that progress.
In other primaries, Arizona Republicans dodged a bullet in the key U.S. Senate race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. Martha McSally, a U.S. House member who was the first female Air Force pilot to see combat, won a majority of the Republican primary vote. She beat former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state legislator Kelli Ward, both of whom carried enough baggage to be easy targets for Democrats in the fall.
McSally will now face U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in November. The three-term Democrat has a carefully cultivated reputation as a centrist. But she showed a willingness to vote for higher taxes and liberal social positions as a state legislator.
McSally has already launched an ad comparing the whereabouts of the two candidates at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, with McSally beside a fighter jet and Sinema protesting military action in a pink tutu.
The primary season for Campaign 2018 is now nearing a close. In most of the key races in the November midterm elections, voters will be given a clear choice between a candidate favorable to President Trump’s policies and someone who wants to upend them. Unlike many previous midterm elections, this November will truly represent a choice and not an echo.