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Dem candidates bring diversity to Florida governor’s race

August 21, 2018
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FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2018, file photo Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham thanks a campaign volunteer, Juan Sabater, of Miami as she speaks to voters in an early "Get Out The Vote" tour in Miami Lakes, Fla. If the Democratic nominee goes on to win in November, voters could elect the state’s first woman or black governor, or only the second Jewish governor since Florida became a state in 1845. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In a state with a long-standing tradition of electing white, Christian men, Florida’s Democratic primary could produce the state’s first black or woman governor or the second Jewish governor in its history.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, the only woman running for governor, or Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the only black candidate, would set a first-in-Florida milestone if either goes on to win the general election. And former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine or billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene would be only the second Jewish governor.

Of the five major candidates on the Democratic ballot for governor, Orlando-area businessman Chris King is the only white, Christian man, making the Aug. 28 primary one of the most diverse in a diverse state.

That fact is not lost on voters like Sharon Davies from Cape Coral.

“I am an old lady. I am 71. I am so happy to see that we have people willing to step up who don’t just look like some of us. And they have such different ideas, different backgrounds. I think that all of those cultures coming together is going to make us a much stronger state and a much stronger nation,” said Davies, a Democrat who is white.

In the Republican primary, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis better fit the mold of the state’s first 45 Florida governors. Republican Gov. Rick Scott can’t seek re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

For Graham, being a woman is part of her sales pitch to voters. She regularly calls herself a mom; likes to use the phrase, “the next governor, whoever she may be;” and has been vocal about sexual harassment and abortion rights.

In a recent interview, she immediately pointed out that men have governed Florida since 1845.

“It’s time we had a woman governor for a lot of different reasons. I think particularly in this time of divisiveness and chaos in our government, what I bring is an ability to bring people together and we need it,” she said. “I believe that women bring a different approach and have an ability to check egos at the door.”

Gillum isn’t making race an issue in the campaign, though he acknowledges he has a different perspective than the other candidates, especially since he’s advocated for removing a Confederate monument at the state Capitol and repealing the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, which he thinks has disproportionally benefited white people who commit acts of violence.

“I know that race is still an issue, but it’s not one that I have to evoke because you look at me, you can see I’m black. We can get over that,” Gillum said.

He said he was thankful while campaigning in The Villages retirement community when a woman stood up and asked, “Can a black man win in Florida?”

“The room didn’t really know how to respond, and so I said, ‘I sure hope so.’ And then I said Barack Obama won this state twice,” Gillum said. “So we know it has a role, what I’m saying it doesn’t have to be so obvious for me.”

Greene and Levine could become the state’s only Jewish governor besides David Sholtz, who served from 1933 to 1937, but both said that’s not important to them.

“I don’t think it really matters to most Americans any more what your race is, or your religion or your nationality of your gender. I think people are looking for someone who they think can solve their problems, or make their lives better,” Greene said. “If the person you’re choosing happens to have something in common with you, that’s just a little bonus.”

Levine had similar thoughts but did say the Democratic side of the ballot better represents the people of Florida.

“It represents the diversity of the state of Florida, and I think it’s great because it allows Floridians to have these great options,” Levine said.

Gillum said he tries not to think about the possibility of being Florida’s first black governor for a simple reason: He doesn’t want to put pressure on himself.

“I have been really slow to try to think on it because it’s too big,” he said. “There will absolutely be a part of this that I can’t even put words to around what it might mean for my children and other people’s kids. Especially growing up for them in the age of Donald Trump.”

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AP writer Terry Spencer contributed to this story from Fort Lauderdale.

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