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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Do Lessons from Gillum’s Victory Provide Clues for Midterms?

Andrew Gillum’s upset victory in the Florida gubernatorial primary is being hailed by progressives as a win for the Democratic left, complete with Bernie Sanders endorsement. Although there are no available exit polls that pinpoint his level of support with various demographic groups, there are some clues worth considering. In Isaac Stanley-Becker’s “‘The young people will win’: Post-Parkland vote in Florida tests youth power” in the Washington Post, he observes:

Gillum’s pitch to African Americans and young people was at the center of his primary campaign, spokesman Geoff Burgan told the Tampa Bay Times, saying these groups represent “people who have typically dropped off.”

In fact, his youth has long been a focal point of his political career. Born in Miami to a school bus driver and a construction worker, Gillum, at 23, became the youngest person ever elected to Tallahassee’s city commission. He went on to help found the Young Elected Officials Network, part of the liberal advocacy group People For The American Way. He became the group’s director, working to support politicians 35 and under.

Though vastly outspent by his primary opponents, Gillum did net the endorsement of billionaire Tom Steyer, whose political action committee, NextGen America, ran a digital advertising campaign targeting young voters on social media. The 30-second spot, emphasizing progressive issues such as corporate taxes and a “Medicare-for-all” health-care system, advised, “For anyone who’s been told to quiet down, to wait their turn, that it’s not their time, Gillum is our guy.”

Put together Gillum’s evident appeal to young voters with some recent statistics noting an uptick in young voter registration and in Florida, and the case for young voters having a pivotal influence on the primary outcome becomes stronger. Noting also that a “ruling from a federal judge last month invalidated a Republican-imposed ban on early voting on college campuses,” Stanley-Becker writes,

Data suggests that the deadly shooting in the South Florida suburb was politically energizing. An analysis released last month by TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, revealed that registration rates for people under 30 increased significantly in swing states during the last seven months. In the several months before the Valentine’s Day shooting, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 accounted for more than 26 percent of new voter registration in Florida, according to TargetSmart. The data showed an increase close to eight percentage points in the months after the shooting.

Despite these clues, we don’t have enough hard data to firmly attribute Gillum’s victory to young voters and those who want stronger gun safety measures. And African American turnout and support of Gillum could well have been pivotal in the largest swing state.

What is certain, is that the GOP is going to go all out to defeat Gillum. Democrats should prepare for record level donations from Republican sugar-daddies to Gillum’s opponent, Ron Desantis, and, given Florida’s history, aggressive voter suppression.

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