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Last week Andrew Gillum became the first black nominee for Florida governor from a viable political party within the state. The 39-year-old ran on what is considered an academic Social Democratic platform, was joined on the campaign trail by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The Mayor of Tallahassee has seen an outpouring of praise, especially from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has seen a slew of victories during the primary season — despite inaccurate coverage from Conservative-Liberal outlets like Politico.
His Republican opponent in the gubernatorial election, Ron DeSantis immediately began using racial undertones in his public statements concerning Gillum. Stating a Gillum victory would “Monkey up” the state of Florida. The Young Turks published the following segment concerning the DeSantis interview.
Gillum would respond to the comments from DeSantis on CNN during an interview with Chris Cuomo, where he said Florida would “reject the politics of separation.” Gillum also stated that the claims from Congressman DeSantis were a “dog whistle” used to play to politics of division, a tactic used by the Republican Party for decades with the ‘Southern Strategy.’ During the Republican primary, DeSantis ran on the back of President Trump, releasing a frighteningly peculiar ad which had his family praise Trump as if he were a saintly figure.
The Tallahassee Democrat broke a story in recent days, discovering that racist robocalls against Gillum had begun to circulate throughout the state. From their reporting:
The automated calls are narrated by someone pretending to be Gillum and using an exaggerated minstrel dialect with jungle noises in the background. The calls end with a disclaimer that they were funded by The Road to Power, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist website and podcast linked to Scott Rhodes of Sandpoint, Idaho.
According to the Des Moines Register, a sister paper of the Tallahassee Democrat, the group has been linked to other robocall campaigns in Charlottesville, Virginia, Oregon and California.
While the DeSantis campaign sent out a statement calling the robocall “absolutely appalling and disgusting” the strategy follows suit with the foundation DeSantis laid for himself. However, such tactics are not only unlikely to help DeSantis win — they will energize voters who feel attached to the progressive message and are motivated to vote against bigotry.
As Gillum mentioned, Florida is home to Puerto Rican migrants who came mainland after the disastrous response to Hurricane Maria which led to the deaths of over one thousand Puerto Ricans; who are United States citizens. Those voters are highly unlikely to support DeSantis who attached his entire campaign to President Trump’s record.
Voters attracted to a Social Democratic platform (often wrongly used interchangeably with Democratic Socialist) are likely to turn out for Gillum, who is running on Universal Healthcare, justice reform, LGBTQ equality, providing aid to Puerto Rico, and numerous other progressive issues. These voters aren’t ‘likely voters’ by most polling methodology, yet they are the reason Gillum was able to outperform primary polling.
Many progressive voters feel uninspired by the Classical Liberal and Conservative-Liberal Democrats which often run statewide in Florida. These individuals were already motivated to vote, the racist rhetoric used against Gillum is only going to motivate them further to make sure he is elected into office.
Even if there aren’t any further hints towards racist campaigning, the robocalls combined with the words of DeSantis will be used to energize non-white Evangelical voters, who typically are more conservative than those who are Social Democratic in nature. Those voters often may not feel as strongly concerning LGBT rights (some are openly against them), often support politicians pressing Neoliberal economic plans, and may reject progressive politics. Although, these voters will mobilize to vote against anyone who uses anti-minority rhetoric strategies.
The last two Florida Gubernatorial races have been decided by 1% (2014) and 1.2% (2010), making any strategical mistakes a detriment to a possible victory. If Gillum wins a close race in November, DeSantis and those in his corner making a play to 1950s racial sentiments will have been a key factor in his defeat.