Surge: How Gillum rode strong support among black voters to win

Updated Sept 07, 2018
CARL JUSTE
Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum addresses the crowd of educators as Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, Florida governor and attorney general for the State of Florida attended an educational rally hoping to excite teachers and educators for their vote, on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018 at the Betty Anderson Rec Center in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/TNS)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum courted white progressives before the Aug. 28 primary, but it was his strong support from black voters that spurred the Tallahassee mayor’s surprise win.

In African-American neighborhoods across Florida, Gillum collected huge majorities that drove his upset victory over three rivals with deeper pockets, a review of voter data from last month’s primary by the Palm Beach Post demonstrates.

Surge: Gillum won Palm Beach County after trailing in mail, early votes

At one precinct in an African-American area of Deerfield Beach, Gillum collected 74 percent of the vote, according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections. At a mostly black precinct in Belle Glade, Gillum took 73 percent of Democratic votes, according to Palm Beach County’s elections supervisor.

READ ALSO: DeSantis says Gillum comment ‘anti-Israel.’ Will it sway Jewish voters?

The trend held throughout Palm Beach County and the state. Gillum — who aims to become Florida’s first black governor — dominated in African-American neighborhoods in West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. In Jacksonville, Gillum won as much as 70 percent of the vote in black neighborhoods. In Fort Lauderdale, Gillum’s count rose as high as 72 percent.

Donald Trump calls Andrew Gillum ‘a failed Socialist Mayor’

At four predominantly black precincts in Riviera Beach, Gillum commanded 71 percent, 70 percent, 68 percent and 66 percent of the votes.

The landslide among black voters powered Gillum’s victory in a four-way race against presumed front-runner Gwen Graham, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene.

Related: Andrew Gillum’s responses to Palm Beach Post’s Know Your Candidate questions

His rivals failed to post such overwhelming margins in the precincts they won. Graham, for instance, won Precinct 6224 in suburban Lake Worth with 37 percent of the vote. Philip Levine captured Precinct 5042 in western Boynton Beach with 39 percent of the vote.

Facing opponents with deeper pockets and bigger advertising budgets, Gillum relied on old-school campaigning to court voters, said state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach and a Gillum supporter. Powell said Gillum visited six black churches in West Palm Beach during Sunday services in a pre-primary swing. On the Saturday before the primary, Gillum appeared at a rally at Wells Recreation Center in Riviera Beach.

“What he didn’t have in money, he made up for in effort to reach the masses of people,” Powell said. “When people meet a candidate, it’s much more powerful than any TV commercial.”

Gillum’s face-to-face approach proved effective in the primary.

“That was all ground game, because he certainly didn’t do a lot of television,” said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research in Ponte Vedra Beach.

In the general election, Gillum faces Ron DeSantis, a Republican Congressman from northeast Florida who was endorsed by President Donald Trump earlier in the summer.

While Gillum was the clear favorite among Palm Beach County’s black voters, he didn’t poll as well among white Democrats.

In Precinct 5050, a western Boynton Beach area where just 1 percent of Democrats are black, Gillum collected only 7 percent of the vote in the primary. In Precinct 5046, a western Boynton Beach area where 12 percent of Democrats are black, Gillum got 10 percent of the vote.

Touting his working-class childhood and his endorsement from Bernie Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont who is the national standard-bearer for progressives, Gillum positioned himself to the left of his foes in the primary. On the campaign trail, Gillum has espoused unabashedly liberal policies, such as boosting Florida’s corporate income tax to 7.75 percent to fund education, raising the minimum wage to $15, abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and introducing single-payer health care.

“He offers something outside of the mainstream,” Powell said.

Whether that’s a winning formula is unclear.

“It worked in the primary,” Coker said. “I have serious doubts it will work in a general election.”

A Democrat hasn’t won a Florida gubernatorial election since Lawton Chiles defeated Jeb Bush in 1994. However, Barack Obama won Florida twice thanks to strong voter turnout from young voters and African-Americans.

“Elections come down to turnout,” said Kevin Wagner, a political scientist at Florida Atlantic University. “Younger voters and minority voters tend to turn out in lower rates in general. That’s been one of the challenges for Democrats.”

Gillum won 34.4 percent of the vote in the Aug. 28 primary. Graham finished second with 31.3 percent.

Staff writer Mike Stucka contributed to this story.