5 Takeaways From A Surprise Win In Florida And A Nasty Race In Arizona

Aug 29, 2018
Originally published on August 29, 2018 6:24 pm

The big story from Tuesday's primaries comes from Florida, where progressive, Bernie Sanders-endorsed Democrat Andrew Gillum won his party's nomination for governor. He will take on Rep. Ron DeSantis, who prides himself on his closeness with President Trump, who enthusiastically backed him.

In Arizona, meanwhile, a nasty fight is taking shape between a Republican former fighter pilot, Rep. Martha McSally, and Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat who tried to appeal to independents while Republicans duked it out over who is most like Trump.

Here are five top takeaways from Tuesday night:

1. Florida, Florida Florida — the governor's race just became the hottest race to watch this fall.

Call it the Bernie Sanders-Donald Trump race that never happened. Gillum's surprise victory for the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida sets up a race between a young, black progressive with an aspirational working-class message and DeSantis, a Republican who has staked his political career on his ties to President Trump.

The bases of both parties want at each other. Now, they'll get their chance. And it's all taking place in the swingiest of swing states. Wow. So, where does America stand, after almost two years of a Trump presidency? Florida, as in so many other elections, may very well tell us.

2. Money isn't everything.

What makes Gillum's win even more impressive is that he was far outspent. In a primary contest that saw a whopping $112 million spent overall on TV ads ($73 million of that in the Democratic primary), the most of any race in the country, Gillum's campaign and groups supporting him were outspent by a factor of five by the Democratic favorite — and even more by other millionaires who ran.

Gillum and allies spent just $2.5 million, according to NBC News. Former Rep. Gwen Graham (daughter of Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and senator) and groups supporting her spent $12.5 million.

It's a lesson that a clear message matters, as does political energy. Gillum fired up the progressive base and, despite not leading in a single poll, he peaked at the right time. He had momentum, which was evident by an event he held with Sanders this month in Tampa that drew about 1,000 people and raised eyebrows.

But in a state with as many expensive media markets as Florida, no one can win statewide without breaking the bank. And Gillum now has the backing of two billionaires in George Soros and Tom Steyer — and expect the money to flow inside and outside the state on both sides as the general election kicks into high gear. The amount of money that's going to be spent in this state by November will probably be staggering.

3. Republican turnout is a warning sign for Democrats.

For all the excitement around Gillum with the progressive base — and there is plenty of reason for them to be excited; just take a look at his victory speech Tuesday night — his win carries a warning sign, too. It should be pointed out that Republicans turned out in greater numbers for their gubernatorial primary.

About 1.6 million Republicans turned out in the GOP primary, while 1.5 million Democrats did. What's more, DeSantis got about 914,000 votes, while Gillum got almost 400,000 fewer. But Gillum still has room to grow: The turnout rate in Miami-Dade, a crucial Democratic area, was the highest in at least a decade — higher than the 2016 primary, and Gillum was not very well known in that part of the state before last night and faced a more crowded primary than DeSantis. But he still has some work ahead for that to happen.

Robust Republican turnout wasn't isolated to Florida, either. The GOP also saw higher turnout in the Arizona governor's race and the hotly watched Senate contest. That's despite Democrat Sinema's lead — so far — in general-election polls over Republican McSally. Of course, there was much more activity in the GOP primary, so perhaps it's understandable, but it's something to watch in Arizona, a right-leaning state.

4. Get ready for an ugly fall.

Arizona underscored how sharply negative the fall campaigns are about to get. With Sinema leading in the polls, having the luxury to tack to the center while McSally duked it out with two candidates who pulled her to the right, McSally, a former fighter pilot, came out firing.

"I am as impressed as anyone that my opponent owns over 100 pairs of shoes," McSally said in her victory speech Tuesday night. "I, on the other hand, flew over 100 combat missions for our country."

She also controversially said Tuesday night that the race was a contest "between a patriot and a protester." It's a tactic she used against Sinema during the primary, trying to out-tough her the whole time. She even ran an ad showing Sinema protesting in a pink tutu.

McSally is going so negative because negativity is what moves the numbers. With so much at stake this fall in races around the country, you can bet it's about to get a lot nastier.

5. Democratic women keep piling up the wins.

Regardless of who wins the Arizona Senate race, the state will send its first woman to the Senate in history. It's a storyline we've been watching all primary season. A record number of women have run for office, and a record number of Democratic women have won nominations for governors' and House seats.

Last week, the number of female nominees overall for the U.S. House hit 200 for the first time ever — 155 of those, though, were Democratic women.

And Tuesday night, Democratic women piled up even more — 19 Democratic women won their party's nomination for the U.S. House. That is a majority — 53 percent — of all the House seats with primaries Tuesday night. And Florida, in particular, will have a wide slate of Democratic women candidates on the ballot this fall, with 16 of 27 congressional races featuring a woman as the Democratic nominee.

The story is not the same on the Republican side. In just four of 36 races Tuesday night, a female Republican candidate emerged as the preferred choice of GOP primary voters. In Florida, it's just two of 27. That is quite the contrast with Democrats.

As the primary season starts to wrap up, take a look at the overall numbers of women who have been nominated by party. According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics:

Factoring in Tuesday night's results, overall, 174 Democratic women will be their party's nominee this fall (so far), a record. That far surpasses the prior record of 120 in 2016.

On the Republican side, however, just 49 women will be their party's standard-bearer out of 435 seats.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, joining us now with some key takeaways from yesterday's election in Florida is NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So it looks like Florida's gubernatorial race is now the one to watch. Explain this showdown to us.

MONTANARO: This is the resistance versus Trump. This is Sanders versus Trump. This is the race that never happened in 2016...

CHANG: But is now happening in 2018.

MONTANARO: ...And is now happening in 2018. Both bases want to go after each other. Now they're going to get it. It's getting kind of ugly. And actually, let's take a listen to Ron DeSantis, who was on Fox News this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: Let's build off the success we've had on Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.

CHANG: Wow. Of course, that is a racially charged term. How did DeSantis explain his way out of that?

MONTANARO: Well, his campaign put out a statement later in the day clarifying, saying that DeSantis was trying to say that the state has seen a pretty good economy and that it shouldn't change direction. But any kind of comment like that obviously is going to be magnified...

CHANG: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...Especially with the kinds of activists we have on both sides. And this is just Day 1 of this race.

CHANG: And what about voter turnout last night? What did you notice?

MONTANARO: Well, that's what's fascinating. You know, a lot of the energy that we've seen so far had been on Gillum's side. It's one of the reasons why he wound up doing so well in the late days of the campaign. But Republicans, we should point out, had higher overall turnout in this race. A hundred-thousand more Republicans turned out to vote. Now, when you talk to Democrats, they'll say, hey, that's not a fair comparison because this is actually higher turnout than we've had in a lot of other years previously - and in some pretty key areas, like Miami-Dade County, which had higher overall turnout than in the 2016 primary, for example.

CHANG: And could the excitement around Gillum actually drive turnout even better for Democrats in November?

MONTANARO: And that's what a lot of people are wondering, especially since Gillum is not that well-known. He's going to make his way all across the state. And certainly, there are going to be a lot of, you know, fights on both sides. We're hearing already from Republicans who are saying that they're just basically going to back up the opposition research dump truck on Gillum and see what sticks.

CHANG: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Thank you very much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.