Jus like Soros funded Obama, Florida’s Gillum backed by the “progressive billionaires”

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Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum represents to left-leaning donors everything that the White House doesn’t, making him a pitch-perfect candidate for 2018 in the eyes of the uber-wealthy left. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Progressive billionaires fall for Florida’s Gillum

His backers hope the Democratic gubernatorial candidate could excite the Obama coalition of minority and progressive voters ahead of the 2020 presidential race.

Andrew Gillum, the 39-year-old candidate for Florida governor, had a promising primary campaign with a serious shortcoming: he was the only one of five Democratic candidates who didn’t have either a family legacy in politics or millions of dollars of his own to fund his race.

But Gillum’s financial fortunes changed sharply after he sat down in early May with the preeminent angel funder of the progressive movement, billionaire George Soros, in California’s Berkeley Hills.

At the Claremont Club & Spa, according to multiple people familiar with the meeting, Gillum and Soros had a sprawling after-dinner conversation about Gillum’s plans to turn out progressive and non-white voters and then, if he won, to expand Medicaid, recognize the threat of man-made climate change and enact gun control legislation after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida.

Plus, he said, he could help Democrats in 2020 in a state that’s considered a must-win for Republicans.

“Florida is the holy grail,” Gillum told Soros, according to one of the people familiar with the meeting.

Young, charismatic and describing himself as “unapologetically progressive” — with the potential to become Florida’s first African-American governor and one of only a few black governors ever — Gillum represents to left-leaning donors everything that the White House doesn’t, making him a pitch-perfect candidate for 2018 in the eyes of the uber-wealthy left, starting with Soros, donors and strategists told POLITICO.

His backers hope that Gillum could excite minority and progressive voters who turn out at lower rates than the state’s older, whiter and traditionally Republican-leaning electorate. That could help Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson fend off a challenge to his seat in November and get Democrats excited for 2020, his billionaire backers believe.

“He has great potential to reassemble the Obama coalition, which would be significant this year, next year, and significant in 2020,” said San Francisco donor Steve Phillips, who said he’s been “allies and friends” with Gillum for the past decade. “This really is a case study and a shining example of how to win elections in a multi-racial electorate that’s getting more diverse every day.”

Heading into the final weeks of Florida’s gubernatorial election, Gillum has attracted a flock of billionaires. His political committee has brought in $3.8 million from people affiliated with the Democracy Alliance of big donors, out of a total of $9.6 million. And the money is still coming in: California billionaire Tom Steyer pledged $5.2 million to Gillum on Wednesday.

Gillum, who was the youngest Tallahassee city commissioner before he became mayor, needs the cash. Ron DeSantis, his Republican rival for the governorship, has raised a whopping $19 million in one of the most expensive states for campaigning, and DeSantis has billionaire backers ranging from Las Vegas gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson to the conservative Mercer family. The two candidates, however, had about the same amount of cash on hand heading into the final month of campaigning.

Though Democracy Alliance members pledge to give $300,000 annually to approved liberal causes, such as the Center of American Progress and Media Matters, the group doesn’t formally coordinate spending on candidates. The last person to garner similar enthusiasm from donors was Tom Perriello, the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial candidate. But Perriello, unlike Gillum, had years of beltway connections to donors to draw upon — including as CEO and president of the CAP Action Fund.

Six of the 10 biggest individual donors to Gillum’s campaign and political committee — including hedge fund magnate Donald Sussman, software founder Stephen Silberstein, San Francisco donor-activist Phillips and social justice advocate Quinn Delaney — have either self-identified or been publicly identified as members of the progressive donor circle, according to a POLITICO analysis.

Gillum began courting billionaire support well before he met with Soros in person, according to people familiar with the meetings. In mid-March of 2017, he traveled to Soros’ headquarters in New York and met with his two sons, Alex and Jonathan Soros, plus donor-adviser Michael Vachon. At the end of March, Gillum also met staff with Steyer’s NextGen Climate America group in San Francisco.

He’d come in contact with both individuals before. Gillum at one time worked for the liberal group People for the American Way, which Soros helped fund. And he founded another organization, the Young Elected Officials Network, which has received funding from both the Democracy Alliance and NextGen.

At the two meetings in March, he brought maps of Florida showing the counties he thought he could win, the percentage of the youth vote he could turn out and the power of the black vote. Gillum told both Soros’ and Steyer’s groups he could win the Democratic primary.

The Soros team liked what they heard. Alex Soros contributed $50,000 on March 31, and George Soros gave $100,000. George Soros doubled his money in December, leading some major donors to chip in too, and he’d continue giving after the May meeting in California. Soros and his sons have given Gillum’s political committee, Forward Florida, a total of $1.3 million.

Steyer, however, held back after the Gillum presentation in March. He was not planning to pick sides in any Democratic primaries this year.

More than a year later, Gillum gave Steyer another call. But by then, Gillum didn’t need to make his pitch. The staff of NextGen told Steyer he had to endorse in the Florida primary, Steyer told POLITICO.

“They really, really, really liked Andrew Gillum. So, they were coming back and going, ‘Tom get your head out of the sand. This guy’s fantastic,’” Steyer told POLITICO.

“Goddammit Andrew. We don’t want to do endorsements. But we’re going to have to,” Steyer said he told Gillum at the time. “Because he’s so outstanding.”

In June, Steyer announced he would convert his NextGen group — with 120 staff and 1,000 volunteers organized on 45 college campuses — into Gillum’s field campaign, which was barebones until that point. All told, NextGen spent $1.2 million during the primary, about half of which directly aided Gillum. NextGen and Steyer chipped in an additional $800,000 to Forward Florida and Gillum’s campaign.

Steyer’s pledge to help Gillum in the primary might only be the start.

On Saturday, Steyer introduced Gillum at the Miami-Dade County Democrats’ “Blue Gala” and pointed out that, in addition to the on-ground organizing of NextGen, his other campaign — to impeach Trump — could also benefit Gillum.

Of 6 million signatures Steyer’s group has gathered calling for the impeachment of Trump, about 400,000 are from Florida, and the group says two-thirds of those people normally don’t vote in a midterm. Steyer said the campaign will contact them daily from this point on to turn them out to vote. Vote-by-mail ballots start going out to voters in Florida on Tuesday.

Among elite contributors, Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, another black progressive running for governor in the South, is the only other candidate to garner a level of excitement on the left this year that comes close to Gillum fervor, donors and operatives told POLITICO.

But in conversations with donors, Gillum’s name inevitably rises to the top of the list, in part because of Florida’s reputation as a presidential swing state.

“He is incredibly bright, a phenomenal speaker, and he’s just a solid person,” said Bill Smith, a founding partner at Civitas Public Affairs and adviser to Democratic donors. “People like him and want to follow him.”

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http://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/01/florida-governor-andrew-gillum-billionaires-854293?cid=apn

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