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What Arizona and Florida primary winners mean for November

In Florida, Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum pulled off a historic upset Tuesday, setting up a battle with GOP nominee Rep. Ron DeSantis. In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally topped the Republican candidates to face off against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema to become the state's first female senator. Lisa Desjardins and Kyle Kondik of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics join Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last night was the final time this year that we will have primary election results for more than one state.

    Lisa Desjardins reports on yesterday's results in Arizona and Florida and what they tell us about the 2018 political landscape.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He entered Election Day behind Ii funding and behind in the polls. But last night, Democrat Andrew Gillum pulled off a historic upset in Florida.

    Democrats narrowly picked the progressive Tallahassee mayor over better-known and more moderate opponents, like Gwen Graham, a former congresswoman and daughter of former governor Bob Graham. Gillum is the state's first black nominee for governor, one of three African-American gubernatorial candidates this year, along with fellow Democrats Ben Jealous in Maryland and Stacey Abrams in Georgia.

  • Andrew Gillum:

    Just a few people who said that this moment wouldn't be possible.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Andrew Gillum:

    A few. And then there were — and then there were — and then there were a few more who believed that this thing was possible.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This sets up a battle between polar forces in U.S. politics, as Gillum, backed by Bernie Sanders, will face GOP nominee and Congressman Ron DeSantis, who was embraced by President Trump.

  • Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.:

    And I was able to talk to the president. I want to thank him for his support. I want to thank him for entrusting me with — viewing me as somebody who could be a great leader for Florida. So thank you, Mr. President.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The state also faces a fierce Senate race, as Republicans overwhelmingly picked outgoing Governor Rick Scott to take on Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

    Meanwhile, as Floridians pick firebrands, in Arizona, wins by the more moderate. In the race to replace retiring GOP Senator Jeff Flake, Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally topped conservative firebrand Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

    The retired Air Force fighter pilot turned to the November battle.

  • Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.:

    This is how I see this campaign. It's a choice between a doer and a talker, between a patriot and a protester.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    By protester, she met her now opponent, Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. She has appeared at anti-war rallies, but she has also voted with Republicans in Congress.

  • Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.:

    Arizonans don't care whether you have an R or a D at the end of your name. What they care about is whether or not you're able to deliver real results for everyday Arizonans.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Whichever candidate wins will become the first female senator from Arizona.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now with more reporting, along with Kyle Kondik, who analyzes elections at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Kyle, let's start with you and with where Lisa's report left off. Arizona, the Jeff Flake Senate seat, you have got — how do you explain this Republican primary result, where you have two people fiercely supportive of President Trump running against Martha McSally, who had to walk a delicate line there, and all this happening at the same week of John McCain's passing?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    So there was kind of two fringe candidates, basically, in Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward, who basically split that share of the Arizona vote and allowed Martha McSally to win, but only — she only got a little bit over 50 percent.

    It was actually pretty reminiscent of John McCain's last primary in 2016, where he beat Kelli Ward, who also ran this time, but he only got a little bit over 50 percent himself.

    And so I wouldn't necessarily say that McSally or McCain really are — quote — "moderates," but they are kind of more mainstream conservatives and maybe not kind of aggressively conservative enough or in the case of this election aggressively pro-Trump enough for some aspects of the electorate.

    But, of course, McSally ended up winning pretty comfortably.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    So it tells a little bit more, Lisa, about what are we know about Martha McSally.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    She's fascinating, because, in truth, this is really an issue of the tone and rhetoric she's used more than her actions. She's voted with the president 98 percent of the time while she's been in Congress, as have most Republicans. But when she ran in 2014, she talked about things like working across party lines.

    She campaigned on protecting Social Security. In 2017, she said she is not in favor of one large contiguous border wall. Flip to this race this here in the primary, and now she's campaigning on protecting the border and saying that she will build a border wall.

    So it's really her words have changed because she's trying to embrace the president's policies more, and it looked like that helped her get through this primary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Kyle, what does that mean for the race we look to between her and Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Arizona is one of the few places in the whole country where the Democrats actually have a chance to pick up a Senate seat currently held by Republicans. Arizona and Nevada are kind of the two that a lot of people are focusing on.

    And, look, if the Democrats have any shot to win the U.S. Senate — and they do, but it's kind of — it's kind of a small chance — they have to win Arizona. And so Kyrsten, McSally, I think those are both the choices of the party leadership in both parties.

    And this should be very competitive open seat race for a Senate seat that the Republicans have held for a long time, but Democrats are hoping that Arizona is trending a little bit bluer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But a clear choice between these two candidates.

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Oh, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What would you add about Arizona?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think it's fascinating to look at how it voted in presidential elections.

    It did vote for President Trump, but Arizonans voted more for Mitt Romney. So this is a place that doesn't like this sort of extreme rhetoric, doesn't like these sharp candidates as much as they sort of like establishment when it comes to statewide voting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's turn to Florida. Fascinating results there.

    Kyle, the surprise upset, the mayor of Tallahassee, who was, what, running third or fourth in the polls, turns out to defeat his Democratic colleagues — challengers. How much of a surprise was it? How did he do this?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    It was a big surprise. I think he benefited in some instances from the structure of the race, because there were several other candidates ahead of him who were all kind of beating each other up on the airwaves, and that sort of dynamic in a multicandidate primary can allow a different person to emerge than maybe the person that you might think would win.

    In the case of this primary, I think that most kind of what you consider to be establishment Democrats, I think would have preferred Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman, to win this race. And it was interesting that women have been so well in Democratic primaries this year, and yet she was the only female candidate in this field, and she wasn't able to win.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two candidates — two of the other candidates putting a lot of money in and going after her with what they were saying.

    So, Lisa, no sooner, though, did we see these results than there's already some controversy in this — in this contest for the Senate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    For Congressman DeSantis, this was a huge win, a much coveted prize for him, this primary win in Florida. This morning, he goes on FOX News talking about now the race against Mr. Gillum. And he says something that's gotten a lot of attention.

    Let's play it.

  • Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.:

    He is an articulate spokesman for those far left views. And he's a charismatic candidate.

    The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not minutes later, but seconds later, of course, many people on Twitter pointing out that those are words, monkeying around, that are offensive to many African-Americans and have long been used as race-baiting terms.

    And, also, the term articulate to describe a minority is something that is seen as not being post-racial.

    So, we talked to the DeSantis campaign. They sent us a statement, saying, "Ron DeSantis was obviously thinking about Floridians not making the wrong decision on policies, on the policies that Gillum espouses."

    But, Judy, I think this is resonating today. And for Republicans to have race be an issue right out of the gate is not just a problem overall in terms of Republicans' messaging, but in Florida President Trump won in Florida, of course, we know in 2016, but we also know that was a year that we saw large, sharp decreases in minority turnout in Florida.

    President Obama won in Florida twice. So if you see an African-American at the top of the ballot, especially when there's concern about minority issues, it's something Democrats think could drive out their voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, on the on the other side, Kyle, the president did — has endorsed DeSantis. He did it some time ago.

    Today, he's weighing in, already criticizing Gillum with a tweet. And I'm quoting. He said: "Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win in the Republican primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream, a failed socialist mayor named Andrew Gillum, who's allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs."

  • Kyle Kondik:

    I think that you may see Trump sort of echoing kind of a — sort of a racially charged statement talking about crime in relation to an African-American candidate.

    I will say there is sort of an X-factor in this race. And that is that there's an FBI investigation of Tallahassee city government, where Gillum is the mayor. It's not clear as to whether Gillum would be involved in that. But that is sort of a cloud hanging over his campaign, and I think a reason why some Democrats were sort of hesitant to support him in this campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, to be fair, we should say he says he's not under investigation, not a target.

  • Kyle Kondik:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what more do we — should we know about Florida? And there were a couple of other interesting…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There were.

    I think one last thing that's fascinating about Florida — we can get caught up in the personalities and sort of the controversy today — but there will be a real test of issues here. We have the most conservative part of the Republican Party against the most liberal part of the Democratic Party in a state that is wrestling with things like gun policy.

    And there are big differences between these candidates here. And it's going to be fascinating to see how that plays out.

    Second of all, Oklahoma, what do you know? Oklahoma selected in a Republican primary run-off a new candidate, a mortgage company owner. And Democrats think, because of that, they might have a shot at the Oklahoma governorship. We will see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A fiercely — a fierce fan of President Trump.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Fiercely pro-Trump. That's exactly right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very pro-Trump.

    All right, Kyle Kondik, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Thank you.

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