I don’t know why I’m surprised anymore. Literally everyone is running.
Except for Gillum, I mean. I don’t think he’ll do it, although it’s smart of him to keep his name circulating among Democrats by leaking tidbits like this.
Andrew Gillum met with former President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, amid ongoing speculation that the former Democratic nominee for Florida governor might be considering a potential 2020 presidential bid…
Gillum was in Washington to speak at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. There, he punted on the question of running for president in 2020, telling CNN, “I plan on being married to my wife. That is all I am planning.”
Gillum added, “What I am committed to doing between now and 2020 is doing everything I can to make the state of Florida available and winnable for the democratic nominee for president.”
I learned two things about Gillum today. As of two weeks ago, he’s no longer the mayor of Tallahassee. I hadn’t realized that the city held a mayoral election this year and that Gillum, as the Democratic nominee for governor, wasn’t involved. When he lost to Ron DeSantis he ended up momentarily out of politics. The other thing I learned is that he’s extremely young. I assumed during the campaign that he was in his mid-40s, as most “young” politicians are. He’s 39. He won’t reach his mid-40s until the next time there’s an election for Senate and governor in Florida, in 2022.
Put all of that together and you’ll see that he has nothing pressing to focus on right now except, perhaps, a longshot bid for his party’s presidential nomination. At first glance the idea of him running struck me as absurd. (After thinking about it, it still strikes me as mostly absurd.) Why would Democrats pass over a former VP, a cargo-hold of senators, a few governors and billionaires, and maybe a celebrity or two to nominate someone whose biggest job to date has been mayor of a city of 200,000 people, a job he longer even holds? He wouldn’t even be the only mayor or ex-mayor running: Mike Bloomberg and Eric Garcetti, both of whom ran cities of millions of people, are thinking hard about it. Gillum would be an underdog even within the “mayor’s lane” of the national primary, assuming such a thing exists.
But then I remind myself that it’s silly to look at statewide elections purely in bottom-line terms of who won and who lost. The bottom line in Florida is that Gillum lost. The full story of Florida is that he got more than four million votes and came within 20,000 or so flipping the other way of becoming governor, and he did it in a state that’s proved difficult to crack in recent years for every statewide Democratic candidate not named “Barack Obama.” There’s no question that Gillum would be a national figure right now if he had inched past DeSantis. He’d be a VP shortlister and might be thinking seriously of a presidential campaign. There’d be obvious benefits to having him on the ticket too, either at the top or the bottom. He’d give the Democratic ballot some youth and racial diversity, an ideal pick for an older white nominee like Sanders or Warren. He’d also provide some progressive bona fides in case the party opted for someone more centrist, like Biden. And he might be able to swing Florida from red to blue, an enormous prize. Gillum may be looking at the results from last month and thinking, “How can 20,000 votes be the difference between me being a serious VP contender and me being a political afterthought for the next four years?”
But he probably will be an afterthought. Americans are a bottom-line people. What would Gillum say in a presidential primary when he’s reminded, as he would be frequently, that he has no federal or statewide experience of any kind? Even Beto O’Rourke can point to a few ho-hum terms in Congress. And Beto has a talking point that Gillum doesn’t: Although they both lost close races, O’Rourke overperformed on election night whereas Gillum underperformed. The latter was favored to win in nearly every poll, the former was favored to lose by five points or more. Gillum can’t even claim (right now) that he’s “the next Obama.” O’Rourke seems to have filled that role, even according to some Obama alumni.
And who would fund his campaign? Who’s sending a $500 check to the longshot ex-mayor instead of to Bernie or Beto? Early voting in California will be happening around the time of the Iowa caucuses in 2020. How could he possibly afford to compete there before he’s won a primary or two and built some real momentum and enthusiasm?
He met with O for one of two reasons. Either he’s convinced himself that in a field of 800 or so people it’s possible to win the nomination by winning two percent of the vote, at least in the early states, or — much more likely — he’s just trying to leverage his recent political celebrity to make powerful friends in the national party, with an eye to cultivating allies ahead of another statewide run in 2022. If I were Gillum, I’d be looking for a role in the DNC, possibly even succeeding Tom Perez as chairman. Nothing would better position him to make wealthy pals among the donor class than that. And Democrats would like the idea of having a young black former official as the party’s envoy to a diversifying America. At 39, Gillum has all sorts of long-term options so long as he stays engaged. So he’s staying engaged, replete with a bit of empty presidential buzz.