The Sunshine State’s next governor will be baptized by fire. Within the first months of his tenure
he will be responsible for appointing three new state Supreme Court justices and overseeing the
state’s redistricting process. On Monday, however, a number of North Floridians who had yet to
vote were not thinking much about their next state leader’s impending duties. Many instead sat
in awe of a potential governor who, for the first time, looked and sounded like them.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum quickly garnered national attention following
his nomination in August, attracting the support of public figures from Barack Obama to rap
mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs. Yet, the Tallahassee mayor’s campaign for statewide office finds
its strength in an Obama-style grassroots approach and commitment to championing an image
the common Floridian can identify with.
Gillum spent the last hours of his campaign on a five-county tour across the Florida panhandle,
territory often won big by Republicans. He began the day welcoming students back to Parker
Elementary School in Panama City Beach, Florida, which closed nearly a month ago after
Hurricane Michael devastated communities across the region. Panama City was among the
hardest hit and its residents are hoping Gillum’s win will bring more resources to the region in a
more timely manner.
“We are going to need a lot to rebuild here,” said Janice Lucas, a nonprofit executive based in
Panama City. “This knocked us down. Everyone was affected. We’re going to do what we can
but we need some support from our governor and from our state legislature.”
Later that day, the Gillum campaign brought more than 300 pounds of dry goods and supplies to
New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, about five minutes’ drive from the most
devastated neighborhoods in Panama City. While helping unload supplies, Gillum hugged
elderly women, took selfies, kissed babies and asked college students how their classes were
Throughout the day, amid chants of “bring it home!” “turn Florida blue” and, simply, “vote,” the
mayor’s message to supporters across all five counties throughout the day focused on raising
wages and lowering healthcare costs—two issues of paramount importance to North Floridians.
A majority of attendees were black people over the age of 40.
Gillum’s “bring it home” slogan is inspired by his grandmother, whose wise words have
peppered some of the mayor’s most memorable public moments (following a heated debate
with Republican opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis, he recited another of her sayings, “a hit dog will
holler,” to shore up his allusions to DeSantis’ racist counterparts). Gillum said his grandmother
always reminded him to return the investments made in him. ‘Bringing it home’, to his
supporters though, only begins with a win on Tuesday. The words are also an appeal to bringing
Florida unity and equity, attributes not often seen in Washington today.
“That’s been [Gillum’s] theme all along, that he’s going to represent all people in this state,” said
Dale McKeff, a resident of tiny Chipley, about 100 miles outside of Pensacola. “Right now it’s so
hostile. I just think he’s a good man.”
“Bring it home” can also be applied to the widespread success of the Gillum campaign’s
volunteer teams, who have paid special attention to college students and residents of largely
“red” areas across the state of Florida. Tallahassee residents wishing to assist with his campaign on a walk-in basis were turned away late last week due to an ample supply of volunteers in the area. On Thursday alone, Gillum canvassers knocked on more than 6,000 doors in Leon County. Their driving force? The opportunity to be a part of history in electing Florida’s first black governor. More, the state has not seen a Democratic governor in 24 years.
“I believe we can do better. Our kids deserve better. We deserve a governor who actually sees
us and hears us and understands our concerns,” Gillum said to Madison County residents on
Monday. As the crowd looked on intently, gathered in the shadow of a Robert E. Lee statue,
Gillum concluded, “I want to be your governor, too.”