A Florida congressman with strong backing from U.S. President Donald Trump and an African-American mayor who thinks Trump ought to be impeached are set to square off in the November election for the Florida governorship in the key political battleground state.
The coming political contest between Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis, who has Trump’s staunch support, and Democrat Andrew Gillum, now mayor of the state capital of Tallahassee, was set Tuesday when both won their parties’ primary elections.
DeSantis had been expected to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but Gillum pulled an upset, marshaling the support of minority voters to surge past better-financed Democratic opponents after trailing them in pre-election political surveys of voters. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, had endorsed Gillum’s candidacy.
The DeSantis-Gillum race is likely to be one of the most closely watched elections in the Nov. 6 voting for what it might portend about the 2020 presidential election when Trump seeks another term in the White House.
Trump won the southeastern state of Florida in 2016, but it is a politically divided state that both Republican and Democratic contenders have won in recent elections. The outcome of the governor’s race could give a hint whether Trump’s political fortunes have changed.
Trump wasted no time assailing Gillum, saying Wednesday on Twitter that he has “allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city.”
Even before the voting ended the night before, Trump said, “Such a fantastic win for Ron DeSantis and the people of the Great State of Florida. Ron will be a fantastic Governor. On to November!”
DeSantis paid tribute to Trump at his victory party, saying, “I’m not always the most popular guy in D.C., but I did have support from someone in Washington. If you walk down Pennsylvania, he lives in the white house with the pillars in front of it. I was able to talk to the president, and I want to thank him for his support.”
Gillum, who would become Florida’s first black governor, has criticized Trump as far back as last December.
“This president is wrong for Florida on almost every issue, and as governor, I will fight against each and every one of his wrong-headed, racist and sexist policies,” Gillum said in a video. “The Donald Trump presidency shouldn’t even make it through 2018. He should be impeached now.”
Trump also weighed in with strong support for Congresswoman Martha McSally, who won a three-way Republican primary for a Senate nomination in the southwestern state of Arizona. McSally aligned herself with Trump as she defeated two other conservatives who also voiced support for the president.
McSally now will face Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, who has been running a centrist campaign, to replace incumbent Republican Senator Jeff Flake. Flake declined to seek re-election after losing support, largely because many Arizona Republicans disapproved of his attacks on Trump.
Sinema has taken a small, early lead in voter surveys over McSally, but University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato told CNN that the Arizona contest will be “very, very competitive. It’ll go right down to the wire.”