Worries over such issues as the environment and immigration are likely to push many voters to turn out for Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum, said Dr. Rachel Cremona, a political science professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.
Question: What do you think about the race in general and how it is going to play out?
Cremona: So I think what’s interesting about this race is that Florida is a swing state, but our state government has been pretty solidly Republican now for a while. So, I think Gillum obviously was definitely the disadvantaged one coming into this in people’s perception.
And I think that he has a couple of advantages which are demonstrated by the fact that most of the polls now show him to be slightly ahead. In term of issues, I think Gillum is definitely going to have an edge on the environment in part because a Republican-dominated state government has allowed the stuff that’s going on right now: algae blooms and red tide. That’s really a bipartisan issue in Florida to the extent that so many people here whether they’re Republicans or Democrats rely upon the environment, right, tourism, fishing. All the types of things, right that are being in our economy. And so, I think regardless of people’s ideology, preserving Florida’s environment is very much a priority for people. And that’s going to benefit [Gillum]. I mean, I know DeSantis is trying to make moves to demonstrate that he cares about that. I don’t know that he can do that convincingly for most people given his own record as being very much kind of a “Trump Republican.” So, further to the right than maybe your moderate Republican. So, in that respect I think he’s [Gillum] got an advantage.
I think the immigration issue will obviously also advantage Gillum over DeSantis. And those really are kind of national issues but it’s inevitable in this election in particular that those issues are being projected onto local candidates, right, in terms of how we see the two political parties.
I know that Gillum is running pretty strongly on education, right, and on reforming the education system. That I think is a little more difficult to the extent that, you know, people’s first impression is we need money to do that and he’s laid out how he would go about doing it but I think that on the side of democrats will make him very popular, particularly progressives which are the people that really pushed for him. But a lot of Florida’s income also depends upon retirees and wealthy people moving here from other parts of the country. Those people are not interested in being taxed for education, they don’t want property taxes to increase, they already paid for their kids to go to school in some other state.
The way I see this election coming out is really in a partisan way, right, this election is going to be very partisan because of Trump. Democrats are going to rally behind Gillum strongly and Republicans behind DeSantis. What will make the difference for Gillum, I think, is turn out. He seems to have the kind of charisma and presence that will energize people, I guess, to get them to go and vote. I think that’s the biggest problem the Democrats have had generally is that their candidates have just not been energizing, and their traditional constituencies don’t vote in very high numbers in the absence of a candidate of an Obama-type that gets people excited. If that happens, I think Gillum can win this election really easily. And in that sense too, I see that DeSantis’ disadvantage is that he is not charismatic. I’ve met him years ago when he was the representative in this district and what struck me the most about him was just simply that, you know, most politicians, regardless of party, they’ll meet [people] and can be very charming. You know, that’s their job, right. So it’s like “Well I don’t like his politics, but he seems like a nice guy.” He did not have that quality about him at all. He is very, I would say reserved, and I don’t know how much this has changed. I would say I met him maybe like seven or eight years ago now. But there I think he has a definite disadvantage because I don’t know that he will rally Republicans around him in the same way that Gillum’s going to do with the Democrats. And DeSantis is going to need really strong turn out if he wants to beat him, I think. And I mean it’s very possible I mean like I said we haven’t had a Democratic governor in Florida for quite a while so that gives DeSantis obviously kind of the edge. But I think in this particular election given everything that’s happened at a national level, Gillum’s going to have the advantage.
Question: Do you think that there are any issues in this election that are not partisan? Do you think that there’s anything else that could get people to switch from one side to the other?
Cremona: That could get them to cross party lines? I’m not sure. I mean, immigration is tricky in this respect because I think in the case of Florida, being that it attracts a lot of immigration that there are Democrats that really are afraid of too many immigrants coming in. So I think in that sense, I know a lot of Democratic people that I’ve talked to that are running in Florida have chosen to leave immigration off of their platform and I know Gillum doesn’t talk about it very much either and I think that’s because it is one of those issues where it’s not clear cut that Democrats are all for like immigration and sadly not in the state of Florida right? So it could be an issue where you know if people perceive that, for example, Gillum is too far left on that issue it might push them to DeSantis. It just depends, I don’t think it would be as important in North Florida because, at least not in this area. We’ve seen a big increase in immigration and immigrants coming here but it’s still in St. Johns County it’s not very visible to people. But that’s the only other issue I can think about [besides the environment] where really it’s not clear cut between the two sides.
Question: Considering past elections, how do you think this election differs?
Cremona: I think it differs for me you know in any midterm election if you’re looking at the national level that the party of the president tends to get punished because people tend to lay [sic], We’ve just got this party now we want more of this party. So that would always happen. I think the difference in this election is that Trump has, you know people either really love him or they really hate him and that’s possibly going to see us with much higher voter turn out in this election. That may be the difference. Because historically [voter turn out] is very low even for federal, but you know for state legislators, we don’t see good turn outs in these elections. So, I think the big difference will be that. I think that it will definitely happen on the side of the Democrats and in response it may happen on the side of the Republicans that don’t want to see a change of party. And that’s largely really kind of a result of the polarized environment that’s kind of exploded under Trump. And to be fair, there was a similar polarization under Obama, right , but the difference there was that Republicans turn out and vote in much larger numbers than Democrats anyway, proportionally. What the difference might be this time is that Democrats that don’t tend to vote well in state and local elections may actually be mobilized. And that would, you know most states right now are controlled by Republican legislators and governors and that has a lot to do with turn out so if it changes in this election, we could see far more Democrats being elected.
Question: Do you think that Democratic turnout is changing as more millennials become of the age to vote?
Cremona: That’s the argument, right? Is that millennials are going to more politically active, they tend to be more liberal and that you know particularly now they’re feeling very marginalized by what’s been happening in the U.S. So, it could make a big difference. I think it’s too early to tell yet, but I know that that’s a big hope in this election on the hope of the Democrats is that you’ll see a surge, especially amongst the young. And hopefully amongst minority groups too [who] also feel very marginalized by the Trump administration.