That's not how it was supposed to go. A majority of the polls heading into the big gubernatorial race in Florida projected the man heralded as a "rising star" in the Democratic Party to win by anywhere from 4% to 7%. Instead, the Donald Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis defeated the Barack Obama-endorsed Andrew Gillum by over 55,000 votes on Tuesday, leaving the Florida governorship in the hands of the GOP.
Gillum — the mayor of Tallahassee who has the charisma and political acumen that led many to believe he would be the one to finally retake the Florida governorship for the Democrats — came into Tuesday's election soaring high by most pollsters' calculations. On the morning of the election, Real Clear Politics' average of the most recent polls put Gillum up by 3.6 points.
Quinnipiac's poll of 1,142 likely voters (conducted 10/29-11/4) gave Gillum a comfortable 7-point advantage. A HarrisX poll of 1,400 likely voters conducted over the same period found Gillum leading by 4 points. An Emerson poll of 748 likely voters (conducted 11/1-3) gave the Democrat a 5-point edge, as did St. Pete Polls' survey of 3,088 likely voters (conducted 11/3-4).
Only one of the polls factored into Real Clear Politics' average gave DeSantis an advantage: Republican polling firm Trafalgar Group polled 1,484 likely voters during the final two days before the election and found DeSantis with a 3-point lead. As it turns out, the Trafalgar Group was by far the most accurate of the pollsters.
Late Tuesday night, Gillum conceded while trailing by 1-point with 99% of the vote counted. NBC News puts the current vote count at 99% reporting with DeSantis 4,052,246, Gillum 3,996,906 — a difference of 55,340 votes out of over 8 million.
Despite all the hype surrounding Gillum, he failed to gain as many votes as his senatorial counterpart, incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, who also appears to have fallen short to his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott. With 99% reporting, Nelson earned 4,039,498 votes — over 42,000 more votes than Gillum. Scott has declared victory, but Nelson has yet to concede. With 99% reporting, NBC reports that Scott leads by 0.4 points, 50.2 - 49.8 (4,074,001 votes to 4,039,498).
One of the issues that plagued Gillum's campaign was the FBI ethics investigation, some of the findings of which were released over the last few weeks of the campaign and showed that Gillum appears to have misled the public about money and gifts he received. When DeSantis and Republicans brought up the scandal, Gillum accused them of attempting to "reinforce ... stereotypes about black men."
During the last week of the campaign, Trump and Gillum traded barbs, with Trump branding Gillum a "thief" and Gillum ripping the "howling" Trump as "weak."
DeSantis's victory is a big win for the Republican Party and, particularly, for Trump, who actively campaigned in the state for him and Scott. As for the newly elected soon-to-be "Senator Scott," he, like DeSantis, has made clear that he stands with President Trump on key agenda items, and his victory now gives Florida a fully Republican representation in the Senate. The Miami Herald reports (formatting adjusted):
A supporter of tax cuts and President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court choices and a critic of Obamacare, Scott promises to be a reliable vote in support of Trump’s agenda. His victory ratifies Trump’s political strength in Florida, the most important battleground state in presidential elections.
Scott’s win also gives Florida two Republican senators for the first time in more than a century, since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Scott will join Sen. Marco Rubio when he’s sworn in as Florida’s junior senator on Jan. 3, 2019, in what is likely to remain a GOP majority in the upper chamber. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is expected to serve as governor for five days.