Florida became the center of a referendum on national politics last week. The Trump-endorsed Ron DeSantis sailed into a sound victory over the Florida political establishment in Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam. More shocking still, the Democratic primary suffered a major upset as Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum narrowly defeated former Congresswoman Gwen Graham. Gillum was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) three weeks ahead of Florida’s primary.
Gillum and DeSantis were by far the most polarizing gubernatorial candidates within their parties. DeSantis relied heavily on an endorsement, took low swings at his competitor and avoided providing his positions to stay above criticism. Gillum pushed his party to the left while viciously attacking his opponents for lacking proper progressive credentials. They do not represent the vast majority of Floridians or their politics and Florida will suffer as a result.
Florida is famous for being a purple state. Moderates, specifically Non-Party Affiliated voters, represent over 25 percent of Florida’s electorate.
These are voters who often feel alienated by hardline positions on either side. These same voters are now faced with ideological extremes they didn’t have a say in choosing thanks to Florida’s closed primary. When people feel alienated by candidates, they tend to stay home. In 2016, only 55% of eligible voters went to the polls; turnout hasn’t been so low since 1996. Communities and states suffer when people are edged out of the political process by poor choices.
Gillum and DeSantis are toxic and negative candidates, characteristics that tend to alienate even partisan voters. DeSantis took several rude shots at Putnam’s immigration stances during their June primary debate, a move widely considered taboo in party politics given the uncertainty of the coming nomination.
Leslie Wimes, a Gillum supporter and Florida politics commentator, called primary opponent Gwen Graham “[a] skank,” a remark Gillum’s campaign was slow to dissociate from. Graham also slammed her opponent's campaign for allowing The Collective, a progressive PAC with ties to Gillum’s campaign, to run negative ads portraying her as a conservative willing to abandon liberal values. In June, Pew Research reported that nearly seven in 10 Americans reported suffering from news fatigue. Negative campaigns, like Gillum’s and DeSantis’, will only aggravate this.
Speaking to the candidates’ platforms, DeSantis and Gillum each have unique issues. Voters will be hard-pressed to find any Florida specific policy positions from DeSantis. His campaign notably dodged responding to any major voter guides or requests for policy positions.
Perhaps most disrespectful, DeSantis’ campaign snubbed answering the Miami Herald voter guide leading up to the primary, in spite of an editorial endorsement from the Herald. His talking points focus on national issues and his mentions of Florida’s problems only come in the form of criticisms of other candidates positions.
Gillum’s key positions, such as abolishing ICE, are fringe positions, unpopular even within the Democratic party. Less than half of Democrats believe the federal government should abolish ICE. His more ambitious projects, such as establishing Medicare-For-All and a $50,000 starting salary for teachers statewide, would stress Florida’s already tight budget or require huge tax hikes. His realistic options are angering voters with tax increases or fiscal insolvency.
Florida is faced with a difficult choice this November 6th. The candidates are negative with their eyes turned away from Florida and its issues. It’s up to the voters to focus on electing the right people in their local offices, true representatives who can tip the scale away from Washington and back to Tallahassee.