Congressman Ron DeSantis won the Florida governor's race tonight with 49.9 percent of the vote with 99 percent counted, defeating his progressive opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in one of the mostly closely watched races in the nation. Despite the blue wave of support that showed up for Gillum and across the country, the Trump-backed former prosecutor won among men and older voters, continuing a two-decade legacy of Republican governors in the Sunshine State.
As governor, DeSantis will essentially be Trump lite. He's vowed to continue Rick Scott's trend of cutting regulations and lowering taxes.
DeSantis ran a campaign marred by racism, which began with his praising the economy and saying Gillum would "monkey this up" if elected governor. The 40-year-old is pro-gun, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-women's rights. DeSantis once aired an ad showing him and his daughter building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border while his young son wore a "Make America Great Again" onesie.
Floridians can expect to see DeSantis continue the decades-long trend of Republican leadership in the state's highest office, pushing ahead with the policies adopted by Scott and Jeb Bush, such as restrictions on abortion and support for the Stand Your Ground law, which lets people off the hook for shooting someone if they feel threatened.
DeSantis has represented northeast Florida in Congress since 2012. He was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, which pushed GOP leadership to aggressively cut spending and boot House Speaker John Boehner.
Eight million Floridians cast their ballot in the midterm elections, a much larger turnout than usual. Youth votes, which went heavily for Gillum, soared, but not enough to overcome the elderly vote, which was dominated by DeSantis.
At the polls Tuesday, many voters said Trump's upset of Hillary Clinton and his support for DeSantis motivated them to cast ballots.
"This guy being in the Oval Office motivated me to come out and vote," Jeffrey Pinder said after voting at Edison Towers at NW Seventh Avenue and 58th Street. "I always vote, but ever since Trump was elected, it’s felt especially important to participate."
Pinder's mother Phillis, who accompanied the Liberty City resident and his young son to the polls, added, "We have a president who doesn’t get his information correct — he says things that just are not true — and he speaks so cruelly. We can’t have that. I’ve been voting my whole life. I’m 76 years old. I’m concerned about my community — that’s why I vote." Phillis and Jeffrey voted for Andrew Gillum.
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Last week, both former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump visited Florida to stump for candidates in their respective parties. Florida is one of the most closely watched swing states in the nation, and voters here helped turn the tide for George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
DeSantis' victory as the next governor of Florida will also have a lasting impact on the state's Supreme Court. The same day DeSantis is sworn in, three justices who have been viewed as liberal will retire. The next governor of Florida has a chance to shape the state's highest court by appointing new justices. Currently, the seven-member state Supreme Court holds 4-3 liberal majority, with three of those liberal members set to retire.
Part of the reason Gillum, who consistently led in polls, lost is that only two weeks before the midterm election, news broke that he had accepted tickets to see the Broadway play Hamilton from an undercover FBI agent posing as a real-estate developer. Gillum has repeatedly maintained that he is not the target of the wide-ranging FBI investigation into Tallahassee's city hall and that he got the tickets from his brother.
Throughout his campaign, DeSantis repeatedly committed what the New York Times politely referred to as "racial stumbles", including appearing alongside Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous at an anti-Muslim event; laughing at a supporter who said, "Bring back the hanging tree," but not chiding the man for advocating lynching; and moderating a Facebook group that frequently posted racist and homophobic memes. In 2011, DeSantis published a book, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers, which excused slavery and railed against laws designed to protect women and uphold gender equality.