In the past six presidential elections the purple state of Florida voted for the winning candidate. While they chose President Trump in 2016, Florida does not show strong allegiance to the GOP or Democratic Party.
With Andrew Gillum’s progressive upset on the Democratic side and the success of President Trump’s candidate, Ron DeSantis, Florida’s gubernatorial race is left without a traditional “establishment” candidate. Media coverage of the race was a large contributing factor in DeSantis’ victory.
Ron DeSantis’ primary victory may not have been as decisive had Trump and Fox News not promoted the candidate. In fact, the very qualified establishment candidate on the GOP side, Adam Putnam, had led in polls as noted by the network the day following the primary.
It was not until DeSantis received a formal endorsement from President Trump and participated in a debate hosted by Fox News during the middle of the summer that he overtook Putnam in the polls. Prior to these two major events for the GOP race, Putnam led DeSantis by double digits and was expected to win handedly.
Due to Fox’s extensive coverage of President Trump and Trump-backed candidates, Fox was able to propel DeSantis past a candidate who already had statewide recognition from his position as Commissioner of Agriculture. In doing so, Trump’s favorite network aided his candidate while harming the establishment that he has railed against since entering the political arena.
Similarly, the Democratic voters of Florida rejected Gwen Graham, their establishment candidate, in favor of Andrew Gillum. Unlike DeSantis, Gillum did not benefit from extensive media coverage or a presidential endorsement, though he was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, because he was polling in fourth place of a five person race.
Furthermore, Gillum’s platform is to the left of what is generally embraced by networks like CNN and MSNBC who tend to focus their coverage on more centrist candidates in Democratic primaries.
While he may not have received primary support from a major network, Andrew Gillum now receives expansive coverage due to the nature of his political upset. Gillum’s victory is one of the largest upsets in modern political history; an unapologetically progressive, young, black man bested a well-known congresswoman whose father served as a U.S. Senator and governor in Florida. The GOP’s shock in his victory is evidenced by DeSantis’ recent comment in which he referred to electing Gillum as “monkeying up” the state.
What makes this race even more interesting is that it poses an opportunity for the Democratic Party to flip another governor’s mansion this year. Putnam was expected to handedly defeat Gillum and narrowly edge out Graham should she be the nominee.
DeSantis is not polling as well in a general election setting. Gillum currently leads DeSantis in general election polling by single digits, though it is unclear whether this lead will be maintained.