Andrew Gillum returns to campaign trail and makes his case for Florida governor
A few things you’re sure to hear when Andrew Gillum addresses a crowd: References to his grandma. Generous sprinklings of “ya’ll.” Lots of crowd laughter.
“That’s a shame,” Gillum, at St. Petersburg College Friday, said of teachers struggling to find affordable housing in many areas of Florida. “My grandmother used to say ‘crying shame.’ Because some shames are worth crying about.”
The liberal Tallahassee mayor and Democratic nominee for governor assured the crowd of several hundred people that he will be no pushover Sunday night when he debates Republican Ron DeSantis on CNN: “Don’t let this smooth taste fool you. I graduated high school in Gainesville — but I grew up in Miami-Dade.”
Gillum, 39, is among that rare breed of politician who makes connecting with an audience look effortless. Even people who disagree with politicians of this ilk on everything can’t entirely dislike them. Marco Rubio has that innate charm. So did Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan.
In St. Petersburg and Tampa on Friday, Gillum showed off the homespun, upbeat charm that helped him build vast grassroots enthusiasm to win the Democratic nomination when almost nobody thought he had a chance against much better-funded opponents.
St. Petersburg Community organizer Winnie Foster asked him a question about polluters at the town hall-style event and noted that the campaign had used a photo of her and Gillum in an ad.
“Miss Winnie, always good to see you. With your intelligence, and your brilliance and your beauty, how could I not use you in an ad?” the candidate responded.
Of course Florida should accept billions of dollars in federal funding to expand Medicaid, he said. Not only would it help Florida’s economy and keep hundreds of thousands of Floridians from relying on emergency room services rather than preventative care, but it’s the right thing to do.
“This is personal for me. I remember waiting for the free dental clinic to come through our neighborhood in order to have our teeth cleaned. I remember as a kid that there was nothing wrong with going to the emergency room because that’s just what you did. I didn’t know you were supposed to have a regular relationship with a doctor,” said Gillum, the son of a bus driver and construction worker and the first of seven children to graduate high school.
“As my grandmother says, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ Well, we know better.”
Friday marked Gillum’s return to the campaign trail after 11 days of preparing for and responding to Hurricane Michael. He noted that Desantis and the Florida Republican Party ran ads attacking him in north Florida even as storm bore down on the area.
“My opponent spent his time running negative commercials all across the northern Panhandle while people were running for their lives,” Gillum said. “Mr. DeSantis failed the first test of leadership. He ran immediately to the gutter instead of running immediately to the aid of fellow Floridians.”
Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis
John Raoux AP
The DeSantis campaign said defended its response to Michael.
“We converted our campaign events into hurricane supply drives, and we hand-delivered those supplies,” said DeSantis’ communications director, Stephen Lawson. “Our Lieutenant Governor candidate Jeanette Nuñez was at the EOC and in many of the impacted areas. Casey DeSantis even went back to the Panhandle yesterday to hand out more supplies to those impacted. Meanwhile, Andrew Gillum’s running mate has been running around Florida doing campaign events during the storm. Andrew Gillum giving Ron DeSantis advice on leadership is laughable.”
The Tallahassee mayor has sought to run a campaign more positive than negative, promoting his progressive ideas for Florida more than attacking Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.
“When they go low, we go vote,” he exhorted the crowd. “We have to get out there and vote, y’all.”
Gillum predicted a barrage of attacks from DeSantis during Sunday’s CNN debate.
“He’s going to call me a socialist. He’s going to call me corrupt. He’s going to throw his covered up versions of racial epithets. He’s going to call me anti-Israel,” Gillum said.
“He takes his cues from Donald Trump. Donald Trump has no relationship to the truth either. I’m going to try t do everything I can to try to keep this conversation at a high level. I’m going to do everything I can to have debate that is deserving of the people of Florida. But if I have to go there, I’m going to go there.”
The crowd of Democrats roared their approval.
Gillum noted that he is campaigning for votes — and drawing big crowds — in heavily Democratic counties and heavily Republican counties.
He recalled speaking to a gathering of Democrats at The Villages, a sprawling Central Florida development loaded with Republicans
“Ya’ll know how the Villages is? Charlie knows the Villages,” he said, nodding to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. “Charlie won The Villages — when he was a Republican.”