The Phoenix Flyer

Tom Steyer’s NextGen America ground troops begin their march into Florida for Andrew Gillum

By: - July 18, 2018 2:32 pm
Andrew Gillum

As he frequently says on the campaign trail, Andrew Gillum is the only non-millionaire running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Now, he’s trying to make up for that with grassroots support and big bucks from millionaire liberal San Francisco philanthropist Tom Steyer.

Steyer endorsed Gillum last month, contributing $1 million to his campaign as well as providing more than 50 paid staffers and 600-plus volunteers with his NextGen America group. The volunteers are now knocking on doors and engaging with Florida voters on Gillum’s behalf.

“As we battle for the heart and soul of this nation, Andrew Gillum is the kind of leader we need on the front lines,” Steyer said in announcing his endorsement of the Tallahassee mayor last month. “He’s someone we can trust to do the right thing, to put the people before the powerful, and who is unafraid to stand up for justice, now when we need it most. Those who are willing to act courageously and stand up for what is right, are those who will shape the political landscape of the country, and that’s why we’re taking this unprecedented step to make sure Andrew is representing the Democratic Party in November.”

Gillum has been the popular favorite among the progressive base of the Florida Democratic Party, and has starred in debates and candidate forums. But with just six weeks to go before the primary, most polls show him trailing in the race behind Gwen Graham, Philip Levine and in more recent surveys published this week, Jeff Greene.

Organizers with NextGen America say this is where they can make a difference. They intend to reach out to populations that they say historically haven’t been engaged much in statewide campaigns, such as communities of color and young voters.

In fact, it’s the youth vote that they believe can be the campaign’s  secret weapon. Gillum’s progressive platform is especially appealing to that bloc of voters; organizers say they’re hearing concerns about high college tuition costs,  the need for affordable health care and solutions to gun violence, all staples of his platform.

NextGen cites its work last year in the Virginia governor’s race as evidence that the group’s approach is effective.

Putting in political ground troops and money behind Ralph Northam, the Democrat defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in that 2017 race by nine points. A Washington Post exit poll showed Northam taking 69 percent of the 18-29 year-old vote compared to just 30 percent for Gillespie, and the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that the youth vote in Virginia doubled from 2009 to 2017.

NextGen organizers say they’ll go into “full throttle” once the state’s colleges and universities resume classes starting next month.  That’s when the group’s efforts for Gillum will combine with its previous political commitment in Florida last spring,  when NexGen announced it would spend more than $3 million to register young voters.

“We’re thrilled to have their help in this people-powered movement,” says Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan. “Mayor Gillum’s got the resources and organizing power we need to win in August and November.”

Although NextGen officials say the group will be campaigning up and down the state starting this week, they have five main regions where they are located: Miami/Broward County, Orlando, the Tampa Bay area, North Florida (Tallahassee, Gainesville and Jacksonville) and “the beaches,” ranging from West Palm Beach up Melbourne.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.