The Florida Governor Primary Is A worthy Experiment For How Democrats race Against Trump


Florida has three top Democratic contenders for governor. And each of them is employing a different strategy in how to approach President Donald Trump.

The race’s top candidates — former Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — sum are campaigning tough for the Democratic mantle in a state the president won in 2016. Graham’s early campaigning has been heavy on anti-Trump rhetoric, Levine’s has been very light, and Gillum’s balancing somewhere in between.

Since the primary isn’t until Aug. 28 — and polling shows voters aren’t particularly familiar with any of the candidates — Florida may offer a worthy seek at what Democratic voters really want from their candidates when it comes to a central question hanging over the party’s national politics: how best to race against the president.

“We don’t yet know what works as it relates to Trump,” said Ashley Walker, a top Democratic strategist who was Barack Obama’s Florida state director in 2012. “He is a brand unto himself and has been fairly successful at rising above political party and establishment, so it’s tough to say what will work against him.” In Florida, the Democratic candidates’ decisions on Trump speak more to their personalities than they conclude to party doctrine, she said. “I don’t deem there’s a right way or a wrong way to conclude it.”

The race promises to be expensive and closely watched, as well, particularly by those with a potential stake in running against Trump next time. Already, Julian Castro has endorsed Gillum — calling him the Democrat with “the courage of conviction, even when it’s not politically convenient” — and Kirsten Gillibrand has thrown her support behind Graham. In a statement, a DGA spokesperson, Jared Leopold, famous that the general election would be highly watched, and that “Voters across the country, particularly in Florida, are looking for governors who will stand up to imperfect policies coming out of Washington.”

In practice, Gillum is campaigning for governor as a progressive populist. (He likes to say on the trail that he understands the lived-experience of ordinary, working-lesson, course Floridians, and contends he is the only non-millionaire in the race.) One of Hillary Clinton’s more effective messengers in 2016, Gillum said in an phone interview with BuzzFeed News that Democrats already ran against Trump and his message in 2016. He thinks turning out voters is the most famed, renowned thing he can conclude to win, and while he won’t grasp hitting Trump “off the table totally,” he said liberals, and voters of color in specific, don’t need to be reminded that Trump’s policies are imperfect for Florida.

“Frankly, running against Trump is going to be inadequate to win,” said Gillum. “We hold to give voters a reason to turn out, and I trust my chances at being able to traipse the piece of our electorate that is more difficult to turnout in midterm election over anybody in this race on either side.”

Gillum is critical of Graham’s approach on Trump, the most overt anti-Trump strategy in the race. Graham went up this month with a digital ad in which she made six direct mentions of Trump, including saying, “Donald Trump is not gonna to be able to stand in my way of doing what’s right for the people of Florida,” she said at the pause of the ad. Said Gillum: “[It’s like], who are you running against?”

Graham’s campaign even first placed the ad in the same media market as Mar-a-Lago. But it could be a smart strategy for Graham, a more known entity in Florida elected to Congress before who is the daughter of a Florida political legend. Strategists observing the race told BuzzFeed News that because she won’t need to work as tough to increase her name ID — and is the only female candidate in a field of men — coming off the top rope against Trump in her first ad wasn’t a imperfect opinion.

“Of course I’m standing up to Trump,” said Graham in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Not only is Trump intentionally dividing our country at a time we need to be pulling together, but Trump’s policies on everything from health care to protecting our environment are also a direct threat to Florida and our families. Other candidates for governor may choose to avoid Trump, or fade soft on Trump, or whatever — but I most certainly will not.”

Graham told BuzzFeed News that since Trump’s election that there has been a shift in Florida. She said the Trump administration has threatened immigrant communities, undermined environmental protections, and showed “cruelty” toward Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“Others may seek at how to deal with Trump through a political lens, calculating the votes or the politics,” said Graham, who added that she views her approach as a duty of vying for the governor’s mansion. “I’m leveling with the people of Florida approximately the challenges we face with this president in the White House.”

Graham is also seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Philip Levine, a pro-commerce, trade moderate who her campaign says is soft on Trump.

They’re not alone in that observation. “He nearly never fires off press releases or tweets criticizing President Donald Trump or Gov. Rick Scott,” the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times recently wrote. Levine has argued that criticizing Trump is “not a vision,” but he has even avoided a direct questions approximately Trump. Once, he was asked by a local television station approximately Trump’s disparaging remarks approximately Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” and what he made of the president, and responded, “Well, I can repeat you this: I don’t race around the state of Florida talking approximately President Trump.”

To the question of whether he would appeal to Florida voters by running against Trump, Levine answered, “You know it’s keen… I don’t race against anybody. I race with my own message. I’m not right, and I’m not left — I’m forward. I’m running as a Democrat but before I’m a Democrat, I’m an American.”

Levine spokesperson Christian Ulvert told BuzzFeed News that Levine, in fact, spent a year campaigning against the president, rejecting the opinion that Levine has in a way been soft on Trump – and even talked up a pithy line he said Levine’s delivered making an analogy likening Trump voters to students who were duped into enrolling in Trump University. Ulvert said he instead has campaigned with a message on the economy. Levine went up on TV with an ad on guns, calling Parkland “a wake up call we can’t ignore” and on immigration (“In Washington these days, they’re taking shots at immigrants who devoted their lives to this country”).

“We’re not running against Donald Trump, we’re running against the policies that are causing Floridians problems and leaving them out of opportunity,” said Ulvert, highlighting Levine’s economic vision and his intent to inject it into the political landscape. “Mayor Levine is prepared to grasp on the White House on these policy fights.”

whether there’s any indicator approximately how Democrats nationwide who are running for governor may wrestle with Trump this year, it may lie with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the Democratic Governors organization. Inslee firmly believes that Republican gubernatorial candidates will hold to own Trump this cycle, and has in interviews expressed dismay that more of them haven’t stood up to Trump.

Inslee himself confronted Trump inside the White House while in Washington D.C. for a assembly of the National Governors organization, telling the president that on the subject of arming educators, “We need to conclude a miniature less tweeting and a miniature more listening.” It was a startling scene, but perhaps one that Inslee — whose actions that day intensified rumors that he is mulling a presidential race in 2020 — believes is an approach that resonates with voters.



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