As the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race neared its conclusion, it was hard to deny Andrew Gillum’s momentum. The 39-year-old had just finished his first term as Mayor of Tallahassee and the through the widely watched gubernatorial race, he gained a national profile.
But when election night came, the results didn’t show a win for Mayor Gillum.
A high-profile recount would follow: Gillum ultimately lost by .4% to Republican Ron DeSantis, a former Representative in the House.
“I sincerely regret that I couldn’t bring it home for you,” Gillum said in his concession speech, “But I can guarantee you this: I’m not going anywhere.”
He stuck to his word, And though Gillum’s gubernatorial race was over with the recount, public interest in him was not. Like Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia, and Beto O’Rourke, who ran for Senate in Texas, Gillum was considered a 2018 rising Democratic star. Like the others, he had lost his election and could perhaps now use his newfound national name recognition to run for president in the 2020 election.
Unlike O’Rourke, who is officially running for president, and Abrams who is reportedly deciding between running for president or US Senate], Gillum has officially decided against that option.
Instead, he’s staying true to his gubernatorial campaign slogan to “Bring it Home.” He’s digging down in his home state to focus on electing progressives and fighting for progressive causes through his new political organization, Forward Florida.
“What I knew coming off my race in Florida, is that we’d received more than 4 million votes and had come within a rounding error of becoming Governor of the third largest state,” Gillum tells Teen Vogue. “Given that the stakes are so high in this country right now, I had to consider what my best contribution could be to help deliver the White House to a Democrat.”
As Gillum points out, he is still very much in the national fight as his home state of Florida is a swing state with 29 electoral college points, one that has tipped elections in the recent past.
With that reality in mind, Gillum knew the best way he could help get President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection on the Republican ticket, out of the White House was to use the huge apparatus that he’d built. With over 70,000 campaign volunteers and the millions of votes he’d received in the race, he says he used this momentum it to register as many Floridian voters as possible.
“My race had 30,000 votes separating the winner from loser, and there are 4 million people in my state who are eligible to vote but aren’t registered,” he says. “We set the goal to get out and register 1 million of them and, heck, if we can even get one-quarter of them, 250,000, to come out to the polls, our success here could be transformational, not only for 2020, but beyond.”
To achieve that goal, Forward Florida will continue to push for many of the same issues Gillum advocated for in his own campaign: voter enfranchisement, $15 minimum wage, healthcare as a right, banning assault weapons, protecting and expanding women’s rights, and combating climate change.
“What we know is you can’t wait until a few weeks out from election to start talking to the voters you need, telling them that the house is on fire and that the world is going to end unless they go out and vote because this is the most important election,” he says. “That kind of crisis motivation has its limits.”
Instead, he plans to talk to voters in election and non-election years, about the issues they care about. That way, he explains, the first time voters hear from Forward Florida and Democratic candidates isn’t when they’re telling them to go vote.
Gillum says that Forward Florida is committed to engaging young voters.
“The old tradition was to go around and knock on doors and show up at doorsteps. Now, not only do we need to do that, but we also need to be online, where young people are, on Snapchat, and Facebook, and Twitter,” he explains, “And we need to communicate with them not just about politics, but also about the change-making process.”
In the 2018 midterm election, which included gubernatorial race, Florida saw the participation rates of voters aged 18 to 24 nearly double from 2014.
Through his campaigning, Gillum says he heard from young people who expressed concerned about gun violence, climate change, criminal justice reform, college access and affordability, and, as he put it, “wages with dignity that allowed them to not live to work, but to work so that they could live.”
“The key to half the battle is just showing up and treating young people like we treat every other voting segment, like how to treat seniors, or Baby Boomers,” he says. “We need to let them know that they’re needed in the process, not just as protestors and as campaign volunteers, but as voters, as contributors to the process, and a real voting base that politicians and campaigns will have to contend with. If we go to them, and we remind them of their voices, and they know about their power, then they’ll exercise it.”
Gillum understands the power young people can bring to politics: He first ran for a City Commission seat in Tallahassee when he was 23 years old.
“Half the battle, was getting to a place where I could tell myself that I was enough,” he says. “That my experience as a young person and as a college student deserved to be heard. We deserved laws that would reflect the areas that we were interested in as well.”
Gillum says he gave that race everything in him. It paid off. He won and continued to be reelected until becoming Mayor of Tallahassee in 2014. The race for governor last year was the first time he lost a race.
“I will tell you there is a lot of sadness, and a lot of embarrassment in defeat, but I also found a lot victory, in the sense that I went through a very challenging process one that many people thought I had no chance of winning the primary, let alone going on to compete to become the governor of the third largest state in the country,” he says.
“But, we got in there, and every single day I got up believing that I deserved to be on that stage, and that I deserved to be out there talking about the issues that were important to me.”
After losing the race, that feeling didn’t go away, and he says it made him realize that the road to change is a winding one. He says he feels as idealistic about the political process today as he did when he first got involved in his twenties. One thing he’s realized from his time his office, and from running a race he did not win, is that you don’t need to be an elected official with an official title in order to do good for your community.
“I hope that you keep fighting in the hope that you can make a contribution, and that if the opportunity comes around again, and you make another run at it, maybe you’ll have better luck and success the next time,” he says.
But in the meantime, Gillum says, you should do everything that you can to make your neighborhood, your community, your state, and your country one that is more deserving of the next generation.
That, he says, is what continues to drive him forward.