By BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum announced their running mates for Florida governor Thursday, with DeSantis choosing the first Cuban-American woman to be on the ballot for lieutenant governor and Gillum picking an Orlando-area businessman who competed against him in the primary.
DeSantis revealed state Rep. Jeanette Nunez as his pick through a press release just before a rally with other Republican candidates in Orlando, while Gillum made his choice of Chris King known through Facebook, in a live video that also featured their wives.
DeSantis’ pick is noteworthy because Nunez has been at odds with some of his agenda supporting President Donald Trump. DeSantis won the nomination last week with Trump’s endorsement, and he’s been a constant defender of the president on Fox News.
But Nunez tweeted during the 2016 presidential campaign that Trump was a con man who supported the Ku Klux Klan. Nunez was backing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for president at the time. Nunez and DeSantis downplayed her past the tweet while talking with reporters.
“Listen, we’re here talking about moving forward,” she said. “It’s no secret that I was a strong Marco Rubio supporter. That election is done and I’m looking forward to this election.”
DeSantis told reporters, “To support Marco Rubio, a favorite son from Miami, a Cuban-American, what a historic run. I mean, if I were in her shoes, I probably would have been supporting Marco as well. That’s a nonissue. We are just really united on having a path forward for Florida.”
And while DeSantis has a tough-on-immigration position in line with Trump’s, Nunez was the prime sponsor of a 2014 education bill to provide in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrant children living in Florida, a bill opposed by several immigration hardliners including current U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has campaigned with DeSantis.
Also noteworthy, DeSantis has campaigned as a Tallahassee outsider who wants to “drain the swamp” at the Capitol picked a member of the House leadership team. Republican Gov. Rick Scott can’t seek re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott was also at the rally where DeSantis introduced Nunez as his running mate.
Gillum and King talked about the friendship they built while campaigning against each other and even had their wives join the announcement, with R. Jai Gillum talking about the respect she and her husband have for King and his wife Kristen, because of the importance they place on faith and family.
“My heart is really full, and it’s full because I know that these two people who we get to stand next to love this state as much as R. Jai and I do, ” Andrew Gillum said. “We believe collectively that common sense, that optimism, that inspiration — all of that will win out.”
King came in fifth of five leading Democrats seeking the nomination after spending several million dollars of his own money on the race. A Harvard-educated liberal Christian, King has never held public office, instead highlighting his business experience. He is CEO of Elevation, a company that invests in and manages affordable housing for seniors.
King has said Democrats need to use Bible teachings to persuade Republicans to support policies helping the poor, the sick and the homeless. He criticized the sugar industry, called for a tax on bullets to pay for school safety, and would abolish the death penalty.
“This is not a political marriage. This is not a marriage of convenience. I developed a friendship with Andrew Gillum over 18 months as we were competing — as I was trying to beat him in running for governor,” King said. “He beat me pretty badly, but I came to care for him, and I came to admire him — his gifts, his talents and most importantly his vision for the state of Florida.”