Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum scored an upset in the Democratic primary and will take on a Trump-backed Republican in November in the race for governor of Florida (ALEX WONG)
Washington (AFP) – A liberal African-American Democrat backed by Bernie Sanders will take on a Trump-idolizing Republican in an intriguing duel in November for governor of Florida, America’s third-largest state.
The upset victory by Democrat Andrew Gillum, 39, the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, was the most notable of a slate of party primary results on Tuesday to decide candidates for the midterm election.
In other races, a former air force fighter pilot, Representative Martha McSally, won the Republican primary in Arizona to replace the retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump.
With 52 percent of the vote, McSally easily defeated arch conservative Kelli Ward, a former state senator, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an immigration hardliner who was convicted of criminal contempt and pardoned by Trump last year.
Trump had mostly stayed out of the Arizona Senate race but he gave his full endorsement to the 52-year-old McSally on Wednesday, saying she was “strong on crime” and “the border.”
“Martha McSally is an extraordinary woman. She was a very talented fighter jet pilot and is now a highly respected member of Congress,” Trump tweeted. “Has my total and complete Endorsement.”
McSally will take on Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a three-term member of the House of Representatives, as Republicans seek to hold on to their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate in November.
Democrats had been hoping for a victory by one of the extreme right-wing candidates — Ward or Arpaio — in a bid to increase their chances of capturing the Arizona Senate seat.
A replacement for the other senator from Arizona, the late John McCain, is to be named in the next few days by the southwestern state’s Republican governor and will be up for election in 2020.
In Florida, Gillum will be pitted against Representative Ron DeSantis, also 39, an enthusiastic Trump backer who surged in the polls after earning the endorsement of the president.
– ‘We were counted out’ –
“Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream… a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “This is not what Florida wants or needs!”
DeSantis’s campaign featured an ad in which he encourages his toddler to use blocks to “build the wall” — a reference to Trump’s border wall with Mexico — and dresses his baby in a Trump slogan “Make America Great Again” outfit.
Gillum, who has called for Trump’s impeachment, is the first African-American to win Florida’s Democratic nomination for governor and his surprise win came against better-funded, more mainstream opponents.
“We were counted out every step of the way,” Gillum said. “My four opponents collectively spent over 90 million dollars. I think our total spending may have been six.”
If elected, Gillum promised to work for universal health care and “common sense” gun laws in a state where there has been a spate of mass shootings.
Sanders, who represents the left wing of the party and came up short in his 2016 challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, welcomed his victory.
“Floridians joined Andrew in standing up and demanding real change and showed our nation what is possible when we stand together,” the Vermont senator tweeted.
Also in Florida, current governor Rick Scott won the Republican Senate nomination and is set to take on Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in November.
“He will be a great Senator,” Trump tweeted of Scott.
Nelson, 75, has represented Florida in the Senate since 2001 but the latest polls show Scott with a slight lead in what is expected to be one of the most expensive congressional races.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs in November along with 35 seats in the 100-member Senate.
The midterm elections in Arizona and Florida are being closely watched as harbingers of how the key states may vote in the 2020 presidential election.
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