by Lindsay Price
On Aug. 28, voters flocked to voting precincts to cast their ballots in the 2018 Florida primaries. Florida’s state governor and senatorial elections have drawn local and national attention, and leaders of UT’s political organizations contemplated the effects of the results on the subsequent general election.
Andrew Gillum, who was supported by Bernie Sanders, captured the Democratic nomination for governor, edging Gwen Graham by a three percent margin. On the Republican side, Trump-endorsed candidate Ron DeSantis won with a 56.5 percent majority of the votes. Joshua Cote, the president of the College Republicans, anticipates voters’ decisions in November on state taxes and government spending.
“On both sides of the aisle, you had candidates who upset the early favorites,” Cote said. “With Andrew Gillum on the Democrats’ side, I think he alienates a lot of moderate Democrats who wanted Gwen Graham to win. And on the Republican side, you had the Trump candidate, Ron DeSantis, against the traditional, establishment candidate in Adam Putnam.”
Casey Bauer, political director of the College Democrats, expressed his pleasure with the increased turnout in comparison with previous elections. He noted that Gillum would be the first African-American governor of Florida.
“On the Democratic side, we saw multiple candidates competing for governor, offering many ideas,” Bauer said. “I think this shows Democrats are thinking and putting forward new ideas to make Floridians’ lives better. On the Republican side, it was less a battle over policy but who could be more Trump-like.”
In the Senate primaries, incumbent Bill Nelson ran uncontested for the Democrats and is seeking his fourth consecutive term in the seat. Former Florida governor, Republican Rick Scott, won the primary in a landslide, receiving just short of 90 percent of the vote.
Prior to the election, Cote followed all of the polls closely, from the Senate race to the County Commissioner race. He watched the Hillsborough County District 7 Board of Commissioners race with particular attention, bringing candidate Aakash Patel to speak with the College Republicans club last semester. The group was unable to have Todd Marks, the winner of the Republican nomination for the position, visit due to time constraints. Cote found it interesting to watch support transition away from early favorites, such as Patel, to originally unknown candidates like Marks.
The latest statewide polls bode well for the Republicans’ chances in November, with both DeSantis and Scott ahead of their opponents and candidates Matt Caldwell and Ashley Moody in tight races, according to Cote. Caldwell defeated three other candidates in his bid for Agricultural Commissioner, and will square off against Democrat Nikki Fried, who won a majority of her side’s votes. Florida Attorney General candidates Moody and Democrat Sean Shaw both won a majority of the votes in their respective parties.
“I am very pleased with the results of the primary elections,” Cote said. “I believe that we have strong candidates all across the board heading into the general election on Nov. 6. From Ron DeSantis for Governor, to Matt Caldwell for Commissioner of Agriculture, to Ashley Moody for Attorney General and Rick Scott for US Senate, we have a very strong chance of winning all of the statewide elected offices.”
Bauer was also active before the primaries, engaging in efforts to support Democratic candidates at all levels.
“Over the summer, I knocked on hundreds of doors and made tons of phone calls,” Bauer said. “Not just for the governor’s race but for smaller ones as well. I can’t wait to see UT students involved in the election cycle this fall.”
Florida, as a swing state with candidates on either side of the political spectrum, might have the most watched state governor election in the country this year, according to Cote.
“This race is going to be focused on turnout of each party’s base. It’s a sign of our hyperpartisan times. Many elections, your general election is a dash to the middle of the political spectrum, and that will not be the case for Florida in 2018,” said Kevin O’Hare, president of the College Democrats.
O’Hare plans to educate voters at UT on Gillum and to aid Nelson’s re-election campaign. He said the results demonstrate that Floridians want an outsider candidate as well as a fresh face.
The general election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Lindsay Price can be reached at email@example.com