ANDREW GILLUM’S FIRST serious act of political defiance came 18 years ago when he crashed the office he’s now on the cusp of occupying himself, confronting a governor by the name of Jeb Bush.
Just a 20-year-old college sophomore at the time, Gillum was one of four students who stormed the governor’s office in Tallahassee and vowed to wait as long as possible to push for changes to Bush’s plan to dismantle affirmative action preferences.
With hundreds of chanting students circling the rotunda outside in protest, Bush quickly granted not only a meeting, but a few substantive concessions – promising the measure would be reviewed every three years and pledging support for legislation to pay for SAT preparatory courses for disadvantaged high school kids.
Gillum emerged claiming a step in the right direction, but also unfulfilled.
“I think that we accomplished something,” he told reporters afterward, adding, “Let there be no mistake. We are not satisfied with our progress.”
From the start, Gillum’s underdog campaign for governor of Florida was always predicated on the same unsatisfied defiance that fueled his earliest days as an activist. To those who have known and watched him closely, his gift of personal magnetism, commitment to advocacy and unyielding ambition made him destined for this moment.
And yet when his name first floated publicly as a gubernatorial candidate, he was told all the reasons it wasn’t feasible.
Geography: He’s from Tallahassee, one of Florida’s smallest of 10 media markets and therefore one of the hardest places to gain statewide name recognition and marshall resources.
Demography: Even Democrats had never in their history nominated a black man to become the state’s chief executive.
Ideology: With positions like Medicare for all, restrictions on guns and the legalization of pot, he was assumed to be too liberal for the king of all swing states and the adopted home of President Donald Trump.
So to say what he’s trying to do has never been done before is not just overhyped political jargon. That he now stands as the nominal frontrunner to become the first Democrat in 24 years to win a governor’s race in Florida – and the first African-American ever to do so – is uncharted territory in itself, and if he’s successful, it will be one of the most consequential results of this 2018 campaign cycle. He will immediately become one of the most important Democrats in the country and regarded as an emerging national star of a party bending to the left.
“When they tell me I can’t be something, they only fuel my fire,” Gillum says in an interview with U.S. News from his campaign bus just days before Election Day. “When they say it’s not possible, it only gives me more motivation to prove them wrong.”
But now, the question in Florida is no longer if Gillum can win. In these final days, it’s become: Can he lose?
“There’s something Kennedyesque about Andrew. People don’t really know why – they just feel good,” says Gary Yordon, a television producer who helped film Gillum’s first campaign commercial for Tallahassee city commissioner 15 years ago. “The last five or six candidates [Democrats] put up for governor, they’ve been like oatmeal – nobody to get excited about. Andrew’s like steak and eggs.”
SOURCE: David Catanese
U.S. News & World Report