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Florida gubernatorial candidate poised to make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday’s elections

Florida gubernatorial candidate poised to make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday’s elections

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Andrew Gillum celebrates his victory as he wins the Democratic nomination for Governor
Tallahassee Democrat

Three states held their primary elections Tuesday, cementing key match-ups for competitive races in November. 

The biggest surprise was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum winning the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida. 

If Gillum, a Bernie Sanders-backed progressive, wins in November he’ll be the first African American to lead the state. Gillum will go head-to-head with hard-line conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has the backing of the president and easily won his GOP nomination.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Senate match-up will be two female House members both who have acted like centrists during their time in office. On the GOP side Rep. Martha McSally easily secured the nomination after a bitter primary and on the Democratic side Rep. Kyrsten Sinema rolled over her opponent.

So what else happened Tuesday night? Here are our key takeaways:

In Florida’s governor’s race each party picks their extremes

In Congress, DeSantis is a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right rebels who relish in taking on their party’s leadership. DeSantis and the roughly three dozen conservatives in the group have been known to sink – or at least threaten to – their own party’s legislation if they don’t believe it is conservative enough.

Some establishment Republicans had been hoping that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam would be their nominee because they saw him as the stronger candidate in the general election. Florida went for President Trump by just one percentage point in 2016.

But nervous Republicans may be breathing a sigh of relief since Democrats chose progressive Gillum. Some establishment Democrats had thought that former Rep. Gwen Graham, a centrist, would have been a stronger competitor in a general election.

In an interview with CNN after his win, Gillum attempted to push back at being a far-left candidate by pointing out that despite the Sanders endorsement he had been a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 said he would be governor “not just for some, but for all.” 

Trump is still kingmaker in primaries

In the Florida governor GOP primary, Trump endorsed DeSantis over the state’s more mainstream agriculture commissioner. Trump’s early endorsement of DeSantis proved to be helpful, DeSantis won easily Tuesday. The congressman ran hard on Trump’s endorsement. He even had ad where he was seen building a wall with his daughter and reading Trump’s book to his son.

“Such a fantastic win for Ron DeSantis and the people of the Great State of Florida. Ron will be a fantastic Governor. On to November!” the president tweeted Tuesday night. 

Trump had also endorsed current Florida Gov. Rick Scott for the GOP nomination for Senate. Scott did have a primary opponent, though it was not a serious challenge and he was always expected to win.

Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Republican Senate primary, no candidate got the official Trump blessing but all fought hard to tout their ties to the president.

McSally, the establishment pick, had once distanced herself from Trump as the congresswoman running for re-election in a purple congressional district. But in an attempt to make it through the GOP Senate primary, McSally cozied up to Trump with visits to the White House and support for some of his policies. Meanwhile, former state senator and physician Kelli Ward touted a tweet the president had fired off last summer saying it was “great” to see her running. And former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio boasted about his relationship with the president, who pardoned him for criminal contempt of court last August. 

In Oklahoma’s GOP primary runoff for governor – the state had its full primary earlier in the summer – former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and businessman Kevin Stitt both ran on support for Trump. Stitt won Tuesday.

A good night for House lawmakers

McSally, Sinema and DeSantis all made it through their primary for higher office this cycle. But they weren’t the only ones who made it out of primaries Tuesday night, there were no primary upsets and some House members who had faced tough primary challenges came out far ahead.

In Florida’s District 7, Democrat Rep. Stephanie Murphy easily beat a challenge from the left. Democratic Rep. Darren Soto in Florida’s 9th District got double the vote against former Rep. Alan Grayson who ran for his old seat.

In Florida 26th District, Rep. Carlos Curbelo breezed past his primary challenger. In District 18, GOP incumbent Rep. Brian Mast took down his two challengers who mounted bids after Mast called for a temporary moratorium on assault weapon sales.

Could turnout be a sign of things to come in November?

Voter turnout in Arizona was expected to shatter the previous record with early indications that more Democrats were a major factor. That would be good news for Democrats hoping to capture Sen. Jeff Flake’s now open seat in the fall. 

Meanwhile, Florida turnout did not appear to be record-setting, however it had been 16 years  since more voters had gone to the polls for a primary, according to data from the Florida Secretary of State’s office. This year, early results showed Republicans narrowly leading Democrats in turnout in the purple state. If Republicans are able to keep that trend, that could mean victory in two competitive statewide elections in the fall – the Florida governor’s race and the Senate race. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (who ran unopposed Tuesday) is officially running against Scott.

Arizona’s voting locations were a mess

Voters in Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, ran into problems right away Tuesday with multiple reports of closed polling locations in the Valley, malfunctioning equipment and computers that weren’t set up.

To respond to the widespread issues county recorder and secretary of state asked to keep polling places open later than the 7 p.m. closing time. But the Board of Supervisors ultimately shot down the request. In a statement the board said keeping polls open could “confuse voters, delay returns, and have other unintended consequences.”

But polling places in parts of Maricopa County stayed open anyway – sort of. Because of a rule that says you can vote as long as you’re in line before 7 p.m. voters continued to stand in line, in some places well after the official close time.

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