President Donald Trump’s favored candidate cruised to victory for the GOP in Florida, setting up a fierce fall showdown in the nation’s largest political battleground.
Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, defeated more moderate opponents aligned with his parties’ establishment.
Following his win, DeSantis gave Trump credit for his victory, saying that with one supportive tweet, the president “kind of put me on the map.” The results immediately transformed the Florida race into one of the key gubernatorial campaigns in the country.
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DeSantis’ competitor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s primary victory could help Democrats boost enthusiasm among minorities, while DeSantis will test Trump’s grip on a crucial state he won in 2016 and wants to keep in his column in 2020.
Following his win, DeSantis appeared on Fox New’s “The Ingraham Angle” and denounced his competitor, saying, “(Gillum) wants to abolish ICE; he wants a billion-dollar tax increase; he wants a single-payer health care system in Florida, which would bankrupt the state. I’m trying to make Florida even better. He wants to make Florida Venezuela,” adding that Gillum’s tenure as mayor has been “absolutely disastrous.”
Trump tweeted in part Wednesday morning: “Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream….a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum.”
Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream….a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018
Trump surprised Florida Republicans with his endorsement of DeSantis, and frequently tweeted about the lawmaker, one of his staunchest supporters in Washington. His backing helped push DeSantis past Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has held elected office in Florida since 1996, quickly built up establishment support and raised millions of dollars.
Gillum came from behind in a crowded and diverse Democratic field. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, whose father, Bob Graham, served as governor, had hoped to position herself to become the state’s first female governor.
Gillum, a favorite of progressives, spent the least of the five major Democratic candidates and had the smallest television presence. He often said he was the only candidate in the race who wasn’t a millionaire or billionaire, and won the endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The two candidates will replace Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is vacating the governor’s mansion to run for Senate. He easily won his primary, setting up a showdown with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson that is expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive races.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.