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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum Is Florida's Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate


Yesterday's Florida primary for governor had a surprise winner last night, and the race is getting interesting. The winning Democrat, Andrew Gillum, did not lead in a single major poll before the votes were counted. He now faces a Republican rival backed by President Trump. Democrats hope to reclaim the governor's mansion after decades of GOP control. And that hope now rests with a progressive candidate who could become the first black governor in Florida's history. WFSU's Lynn Hatter has more.


MIGOS: (Singing) Take my shoes, and walk a mile - something you can't do.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: It was cheers, tears and hugs as Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrated his victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary at a downtown hotel.


ANDREW GILLUM: All right, all right.


GILLUM: One, one, one (laughter). Are y'all ready to flip Florida blue?


HATTER: Gillum's campaign energized progressives by focusing on education, environmental protection and a livable minimum wage. In November, he's going up against Congressman Ron DeSantis, who's backed by President Donald Trump. In the waning weeks, progressive senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Gillum.

JAMIE GRAVES: Not a lot of people really believed in him. I mean, according to the polls, he wasn't going to win.

HATTER: Gillum's supporter and former campaign intern Jamie Graves says she never doubted Gillum could pull it off despite his campaign never raising as much money as the presumed front-runners in part because the mayor has been dogged by an FBI investigation into Tallahassee city corruption.


GILLUM: I would ask people to measure me by my actions.

HATTER: While the FBI does not comment on ongoing investigations, Gillum has not been identified as a target of the probe.


GILLUM: I've been elected 15 years. I've had not a smirch on my name until I decided to run for governor, and now it is I'm supposed to prove that I am somehow not under investigation. I think that's an unfair standard.

HATTER: Of the serious contenders, Gillum was the only non-millionaire or billionaire in the Democratic primary. But he did get a financial assist from Democratic funders George Soros and Tom Steyer. In 2003, Gillum became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee City Commission at 23 years old. He was elected mayor in 2014 and is consistently rated as a person to watch in Democratic politics. His name was also briefly floated as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton in 2016.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, Fla.


HATTER: The same year, he addressed the Democratic National Convention. Still, he never climbed higher than third in most polls, trailing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine throughout the race.

WILLIAM MARCH: Andrew Gillum's win to me is very surprising.

HATTER: Gillum's win has shocked even longtime election observers like Tampa Bay Times political correspondent William March, who says, unlike yesterday, Florida Democrats have a long history of nominating moderates.

MARCH: They are nominating someone on the left side of the field of primary candidates, Andrew Gillum. It shows the extent to which both parties are being pushed toward the extremes.

HATTER: Now the Florida Democratic Party is coalescing behind Gillum with Gwen Graham telling Gillum to, quote, "bring it home." For NPR News, I'm Lynn Hatter in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.