The historic gubernatorial campaign of former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum is now consigned to history, and as we all know, losing efforts aren’t treated as historically significant for terribly long.
For politicians who don’t figure out their next move around the time they are giving their concession speeches, it’s easy to be quickly forgotten, as two local analogues teach us.
Consider former Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown, who lost a narrow verdict to Lenny Curry then bided his time until Corrine Brown was out of office and in federal custody. Then, the narrative went, Brown was going to defeat Al Lawson and take back Jacksonville’s congressional seat.
But he didn’t have the juice.
Brown still had the same speeches. His fiery, preacher-style delivery was the gravel road upon which his aspirational narrative had been delivered time after time. But folks who are busy kissing the ring of an incumbent mayor aren’t exactly lining up to visit his vanquished opponent.
His tried-and-true supporters backed him, and he was able to carry Duval—but with not nearly enough votes to carry him through the district.
His next move? Who knows? He wouldn’t stop and talk about it the last time I asked if he was looking to run for mayor again.
He’s a consultant now. There were people talking about him as Governor if he hadn’t lost in 2015. The fall is fast; the fall is far.
Another failed 2015 Jacksonville mayoral candidate, Bill Bishop, said he would run again in 2019. He didn’t have the juice.
Bishop filed for an at-large city council seat, couldn’t get his money right, then filed for a district council seat. He is now running against the universally liked Joyce Morgan, a Democrat who was one of Jacksonville’s most popular TV hosts for a decade, give or take.
A loss looks likely there, too.
What have we learned from all this? You have to make a move, and it has to be decisive. Right now, we’re all wondering what Andrew Gillum’s next move will be.
Three sentences, five words of suggestion here: New Hampshire. Iowa. South Carolina.
Gillum has proven, after raising $50 million directly and getting tens of millions in help from third-party groups, that he can raise the money needed to at least test the waters for a national run.
Out of all the losing Democratic candidates this cycle, Gillum and Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke—who came within a few points of beating Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate race—are the best suited to appeal to the convergence of crowds and national media in the early states.
Gillum got endorsement tweets from every imaginable pop culture figure from Beyonce and Diddy to Meek Mill and Alyssa Milano. It was clear that the glitterati wanted Gillum as Governor.
Could that sort of buy-in be replicated in a national run?
First: caveats and negatives. The last couple of weeks of Gillum’s campaign seemed somewhat more evasive and less straightforward than the first 18 months. He didn’t have a good answer for DeSantis on the municipal corruption issue. That destroyed him with NPAs and caused him to underperform throughout much of the state when compared to other Democratic candidates.
The indecisive handling of his concession(s), though it didn’t matter objectively, wasn’t a great look. It wasn’t so much that he should or shouldn’t decide the timeframe of his concession; rather, it was the early concession, followed by a walk-back, then another concession done via Facebook video from a park.
Gillum could have damaged his brand. But is it lasting damage? For the best bullsh*t artists, there is always another reinvention. Can Gillum reinvent himself? Or will his ego and his inner circle guide him to think that Gillum 2.0 should just be a reboot of the persona that didn’t get it done with swing voters a few weeks back?
There is definitely no certainty that Gillum can get the nomination, but he’s got to try at this point. The next statewide race he has a shot at is 2022, and that’s against Marco Rubio or Ron DeSantis. Four years is a long time to get stale in this state.
While Gillum has talked about reforming the voting system, realistically he won’t have much to say about how that happens. That will be a tedious legislative process, hopefully something that can be worked out this session. However, that’s what people have thought about every other hot-button issue (gun control, casino gambling, liquor sales in grocery stores). So it’s easy to be skeptical.
Andrew Gillum, ironically, has more of a future as a national figure than a state figure going forward. And it is in his interest to embrace that reality while it still exists. Because the window can slam shut as quickly as it opened.