African Americans are surprise contenders in two more major elections come November.
In the last week, Boston city council woman Ayanna Pressly beat a 10-term congressman for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House of Representatives, and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum won the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida.
Both faced uphill battles.
The 44-year-old Pressly, who is the first Black woman on the Boston city council, fought in the area once represented by John F. Kennedy and Tip O’Neill (though redistricted since).
Her competitor, Mike Capuono, had been in Congress since 1999, and was endorsed by Black leaders John Lewis and Maxine Waters.
But Pressly’s campaign hit the right notes with a shifting Democratic base that’s seeking younger and more diverse candidates.
In Florida, Gillum came in under the radar to beat three wealthy candidates who outspent him by millions.
He never won any polls, and The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper estimated the spending difference as $90 million to $5 million.
The newspaper reported several factors that tipped the scale to Gillum, who won his nomination with a third of the votes.
1) The other candidates campaigned against each other and paid no attention to Gillum.
2) Bernie Sanders appeared at rallies for Gillum, boosting his exposure.
3) When a local NAACP branch held a candidate forum, only Gillum showed up. A photograph of him alone at the speakers’ table exposed the other candidates’ lack of interest in the Black community. He also attended many other smaller community gatherings.
4) Gillum made smart use of social media over traditional campaign spending.
5) Gillum focused on the economy. He spoke often about his mom driving a school bus and his dad working construction, and pointed out he was the only candidate who wasn’t a millionaire.
“It is powerful because Florida voters are mostly non-millionaires and more than 40 percent of them can’t make ends meet at the end of the month,” said U.S. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
In Massachusetts, Pressly faces no Republican opposition on the November ballot and is expected to have an easy win, but Gillum’s Florida race is heating up.
President Trump targeted Gillum on Twitter, referring to him as a “failed socialist … who has allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in his city.”
The Republican candidate who will face Gillum in November, Ron DeSantis, made headlines after the primary when he used the phrase “monkey this up” during an interview.
On Fox News, DeSantis acknowledged Gillum to be “articulate” and “charismatic,” but not the candidate who could “build off the success” of Florida’s outgoing governor. “The last thing we need to do is monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” DeSantis said.
Gillum and others called out DeSantis for using racist language.
Gillum may be able to ride the publicity and anti-Trump sentiment to a win. He is shown to be three points ahead of DeSantis in a new poll by Quinnipiac University.
In his own interview with Fox News, Gillum said, “I actually believe that Florida and its rich diversity are going to be looking for a governor who’s going to bring us together, not divide us.”
African-American Candidates on the National Stage
Andrew Gillum – for Florida Governor
Stacey Abrams –for Georgia Governor
Ben Jealous –for Maryland Governor
Ayanna Pressly – for Congress (Massachusetts)
Colin Allred – for Congress (Texas)
Lauren Underwood – for Congress (Illinois)
Antonio Delgado – for Congress (NY)
Steven Horsford – for Congress (Nevada)
Lucy McBath – for Congress (Georgia)
Linda Coleman – for Congress (North Carolina)
Jahana Hayes for Congress (Connecticut)