Democratic upset sets stage for Florida showdown in midterms

Trump praises results of primaries and says Republicans will ‘make America great again’

US president Donald Trump hailed the result of several primaries on Tuesday night, claiming that the outcomes showed that the Republican Party will "make America great again" in the midterm elections.

Ron DeSantis, who had been endorsed by Mr Trump, easily won the primary election to become the Republican nominee in November’s vote for Florida’s governor.

In Arizona, frontrunner Martha McSally secured the Republican nomination for the Senate election, comfortably beating Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, two candidates who were closely aligned with Mr Trump.

Though a more moderate Republican, Ms McSally had sought to highlight her support for Mr Trump in the weeks running up to the primary, a sign of the US president’s popularity among Republican voters.


While Mr Trump refrained from endorsing a candidate in the race to replace retiring senator Jeff Flake, he praised Ms McSally after her victory as "an extraordinary woman" who has his "total and complete endorsement".

But the biggest surprise from the primaries was the victory of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, the 39-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, in Florida. He won a seven-person race to become the Democratic nominee for governor, and will face off against Mr DeSantis in November. If elected, he would be the first black governor in Florida's history.

Mr Gillum, who was backed by former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, ran on a left-wing platform, pledging to abolish ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement body, and to introduce healthcare for all.

In a speech to supporters after his victory, Mr Gillum referenced the current president as he set out his agenda. "We're going to make clear to the rest of the world that the dark days that we've been under coming out of Washington, that the derision and the division that have been coming out of our White House, that right here in the state of Florida we are going to remind this nation of what is truly the American way," he said.

‘Transforming the country’

Among those to congratulate the mayor was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pulled off a surprise victory over incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York's 14th congressional district earlier this year. "The progressive movement is transforming the country – and he proved that again tonight," she said in a tweet.

The battle between Mr Gillum and Mr DeSantis now promises to be one of the most closely-watched gubernatorial races in November. Mr Trump denounced Mr Gillum in a tweet on Wednesday as a “failed socialist mayor” who is a “dream” opponent for Mr DeSantis. The current mayor of Tallahassee “has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city”, tweeted Mr Trump. “This is not what Florida wants or needs!”

With less than 10 weeks to go before the midterm elections, it has emerged that Mr Trump warned a group of evangelical leaders of “violence” if Republicans lose the elections in November. A recording of his comments at a dinner hosted by the president and first lady in the White House on Monday reveals Mr Trump warning his guests that his policies will be “violently” overturned if the Democrats win in the midterms.

“It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that they will overturn everything that we’ve done and they will do it quickly and violently – and violently. There is violence. When you look at [anti-fascist movement] Antifa – these are violent people,” he said, according to recordings leaked to US media.

He urged those present to “make sure all of your people vote” on November 6th, stressing that the midterm elections were not just a referendum on him but also “on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment”.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent