01:51 - Source: CNN
Andrew Gillum explains his victory
CNN  — 

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum on Tuesday became Florida’s first African-American nominee for governor, as he notched a major victory for progressives in the state and around the country.

An early underdog in a crowded field, the 39-year-old upset the Florida political establishment with the support of grass-roots Florida progressives and a coalition of groups like the Collective PAC, which is dedicated to elevating African-American candidates, Indivisible, an organization formed in response to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and the Working Families Party.

“The job of the governor of the state of Florida is to do what is in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida,” Gillum said on Tuesday night. “I look forward to being that governor because I know that beneath my name is also a desire by the majority of people in this state to see real criminal justice reform take hold in the state of Florida.”

One of seven siblings from a working-class family, Gillum became the mayor of Tallahassee in 2014 after previously being the youngest person elected to its city commission. Last year, he made headlines by defeating the National Rifle Association, which had sued the city over an ordinance that outlawed firearm use in public parks.

The victory, he wrote at the time, “means the next time (the NRA comes) after another community with a lawsuit, precedent will be on our side, and they’ll have to think twice.” Gillum has called on the man he is hoping to replace, outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott, to suspend the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” gun law, and he supports a ban on assault weapons.

He was the only leading Democrat in his primary to endorse “Medicare-for-all” single-payer health care, a top progressive agenda item and the policy most famously championed by Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed and campaigned for Gillum in Florida earlier this month.

“No one person can take on the economic and political elites on their own,” Sanders said in a statement after the race was called. “Tonight, Floridians joined Andrew in standing up and demanding change in their community. That’s what the political revolution is all about and Andrew Gillum is helping to lead it.”

Like Sanders, Gillum has kept his criticism of President Donald Trump at a relative low boil, instead focusing – while urging others to follow suit – on issues that could bring new voters out to the polls.

“I didn’t talk a whole bunch about Trump as I moved around the state,” Gillum told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday. “We all know that the President is uniquely unqualified for the position that he holds. He is dangerous to himself and to the country, in my opinion.”

What people wanted to know, he added, “is what are you going to do for me and how do you make sure that I can work one job instead of multiple jobs as a way to make ends meet?”

In the interview, Gillum played down the historical nature of his win – and the potential for another milestone in November, when he could become the state’s first African-American governor.

But former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, the political director for New Florida Vision PAC, hailed Gillum’s victory in the context of an increasingly diverse progressive movement.

“Black voters, other voters of color, and progressives can claim this victory as theirs,” he said in a statement. “Together, we made history. Gillum’s victory shows that we can no longer be ignored or taken for granted. We’re stepping into the process and we’re demanding more.”