Trump Republican Ron DeSantis and Bernie Sanders progressive Andrew Gillum will clash in Florida: Here are Tuesday's key primary results

Key Points
  • Florida's gubernatorial primaries set up one of the country's most interesting races as progressive Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Trump-backed Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis face off.
  • DeSantis sparks backlash by saying Florida voters should not "monkey it up" and vote for what he called Gillum's "socialist agenda." DeSantis' campaign denies the comment had any racial intent.
  • In Arizona, GOP Rep. Martha McSally will take on Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in another pivotal Senate race.
Andrew Gillum holds his son Davis as he addresses his supporters after winning the Democrat primary for governor on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Steve Cannon | AP

An upset in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday sets up what is likely to be a heated fight for the soul of a swing state between an unabashed liberal and a Republican trying to channel President Donald Trump.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a self-described progressive who has the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, triumphed over Democratic establishment choice Gwen Graham. He will face Trump-backed Rep. Ron DeSantis in November. If Gillum, 39, can beat his fellow 39-year-old in DeSantis, he would become Florida's first black governor.

Also in the state, voters officially set up the closely watched U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The race is the most expensive in this year's midterms so far. Florida also chose nominees for a handful of competitive House races.

In Arizona, Republican Rep. Martha McSally emerged from a bitter GOP Senate primary on Tuesday. She will face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in her bid for outgoing GOP Sen. Jeff Flake's seat in November. Tuesday also set the stage for some House battles in Arizona, including one for the seat McSally vacated to run for Senate.

Here are Tuesday's notable results:

Race for Florida governor gets off to a tense start

Rep. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, and candidate for Florida Governor, speaks during a rally with President Donald Trump at Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018
SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images

With Trump's backing, DeSantis easily beat the more traditional Republican choice in state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The general election race will pose a clash of ideologies, between the liberal economic policy championed by Gillum and the Trump conservatism espoused by DeSantis.

It only took a few hours after his victory for DeSantis to spark backlash.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday morning, the representative said Florida voters should not "monkey it up" and vote for what he called Gillum's "socialist agenda." DeSantis' campaign denied the comment had any racial intent. But critics quickly seized on the remarks as racist.

"It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles," Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a tweet that Gillum's campaign shared.

Rizzo tweet

Fox anchor Sandra Smith later read a statement from DeSantis' campaign saying it is "absurd" to characterize the language as anything other than talking about Gillum's policies. She said the network does not "condone this language."

Appearing on Fox News later in the day, Gillum said DeSantis took a page from Trump's "campaign playbook." He called the comment a "bullhorn" rather than a whistle, but added that he's "not going to get down in the gutter with DeSantis and Trump." 

Gillum has backed positions such as Medicare for all, a $15-per-hour minimum wage, and restrictions on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. Trump attacked Gillum on Wednesday morning, describing him as a "failed Socialist Mayor" and "not what Florida wants or needs!" The Tallahassee mayor responded that "what our state and country needs is decency, hope and leadership."

Gillum tweet

DeSantis has channeled Trump in pushing to reduce corporate taxes and regulation while promising to take a tougher stance on illegal immigration.

One factor that could follow Gillum throughout the race is an FBI investigation into corruption in the Tallahassee government. The mayor, who was not personally implicated, has said he has no tolerance for corruption.

Florida congressional races go according to plan

While the gubernatorial primaries set off fireworks, the races for Congress in Florida went largely as expected on Tuesday. Nelson and Scott breezed to their party's nominations, setting up what promises to be a bitter, expensive contest. Flipping Nelson's seat would help Republicans keep or expand their 51 to 49 seat majority in the Senate.

Three Democratic House incumbents — Reps. Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto — on Tuesday easily held off primary challenges.

Tuesday set the stage for Florida's competitive congressional races. Democrats have several opportunities to pick up GOP-held seats in the state as they trip to flip the 23 Republican districts needed to take a House majority.

The party has perhaps its best chance in the Miami-area 27th District, where former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala won the Democratic primary. She will face Cuban-American journalist Maria Salazar, who aims to succeed longtime Cuban-American Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a district Democrat Hillary Clinton won easily in 2016.

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell won her primary for Florida's 26th District and will face GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Clinton also won that district, which encompasses the southern most parts of the state.

Trump tries to boost Arizona Senate candidate

Martha McSally, Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Arizona, speaks during an election night rally in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2018.
Caitlin O'Hara | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Trump got his preferred candidate in Florida's gubernatorial primary. But in another major GOP contest, the president was conspicuously silent until after voters chose the general election nominees.

McSally easily won the Republican primary for Senate in Arizona. She will face off against Democrat Sinema in a contest to succeed Flake. The seat is perhaps Democrats' best Senate pickup opportunity on an otherwise brutal election map.

After McSally had beaten conservatives Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, Trump endorsed her on Wednesday morning.

The race for McSally's current 2nd District seat will factor heavily into the fight for House control. Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will take on GOP businesswoman Lea Marquez Peterson in a bid to flip the seat. In 2016, Clinton won the district, which includes parts of Tuscon and stretches to the Southeastern corner of the state.

Arizona's 1st District, a sprawling area in the Northeastern part of the state that Trump won in 2016, is represented by a Democrat. Incumbent Rep. Tom O'Halleran will go against Air Force veteran Wendy Rogers.

In another statewide race, incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey will face former education official David Garcia in his re-election bid.


Conservative businessman Kevin Stitt won the GOP primary runoff for Oklahoma governor on Tuesday. He beat Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who was considered a more centrist candidate.

At least one top election forecaster, Sabato's Crystal Ball, thinks that result makes the race more competitive for Democratic former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. The nonpartisan analysis site will change its rating of the race to "leans" Republican from "likely" Republican.

Kondik tweet