Editor’s note 9/11/2018: Justin Richburg, character designed for “Feels Like Summer,” and co-director Ivan Dixon tell Insider that the character believed to be Andrew Gillum is actually former pro football player Shannon Sharpe.
Andrew Gillum was already a rising political star in the Democratic party heading into Labor Day thanks to a charismatic campaign and unexpected victory in a crowded and competitive primary for Florida governor.
And then he made an apparent cameo in a cartoon music video published over the weekend by one of America’s hottest pop stars.
Gillum’s purported appearance in Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer” — the candidate is seen eating ice cream in a brown suit on a park bench — was picked up by music and pop culture blogs as the video began to take off on YouTube, where more than 14 million people have watched it in less than three days. It was so subtle and brief that it was easy to miss, the way that so many polls missed Gillum’s meteoric last-minute rise to victory in the Democratic primary.
But the cameo hardly feels accidental, and could portend a new dynamic in an already unconventional campaign.
Over the course of Gillum’s run for governor, the 39-year-old Tallahassee mayor has leaned on pop culture. He made Migos’ “Walk It Talk It” his campaign theme song, for lack of a better description. And in the days leading up to his upset primary win against four better-funded candidates, he scored social media endorsements from the likes of rappers Rick Ross and P. Diddy and actress Tracee Ellis Ross.
“This is the man I’ll be voting for. Join me Florida!” actress Gabrielle Union, the wife of Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, tweeted the Sunday before the Aug. 28 primary election.
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new in politics, especially in the Democratic party, which enjoys widespread support from Hollywood. If anything, there’s been something of a backlash in American politics against the perception that starlets are stacking the deck against “everyday” Americans.
But if that really is Gillum in the new Childish Gambino video, look out.
Evidence suggests that Gillum, who is African American, was able to win partly due to his ability to turn out previously apathetic and unlikely voters. His campaign appears to have benefited from the support of groups like NextGen America, which is spending millions in Florida courting young voters, and from his connection with black communities as the state’s would-be first black governor.
Meanwhile, Childish Gambino, the stage name for performance artist and writer Donald Glover, watched his own star explode this summer with the release of “This is America,” a one-off political music video heavy on themes of race and gun violence that’s been viewed nearly 400 million times on the artist’s YouTube account. A decision to include Gillum in one of his videos could have a ripple effect, in which Gillum’s political celebrity crosses over into pop culture, a la Barack Obama.
“For Andrew, his path is different than [primary opponent Philip] Levine’s would have been or [Gwen] Graham’s,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant and pollster who helped the Graham campaign during the primaries. “His path is more through electoral expansion. How do you reach those voters? If you’re 28, you’re not watching a lot of CNN or reading newspapers, frankly. Trying to reach them non-traditionally is a smart thing to do.”
Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, a congressman, knows the power of an unconventional campaign. He had considerably less money than opponent Adam Putnam and almost no field staff to speak of. But he crushed Putnam thanks in no small part to tweets from the account of @RealDonaldTrump and a steady string of appearances on Fox News, which holds considerable pull with Republican voters.
Where Putnam relied on a traditional campaign, DeSantis found a route to victory through a type of political celebrity that resonated with Florida Republicans.
Gillum may have found a similar wild card to move the margins in a race that is likely to be close.
On Tuesday, a Quinnipiac poll found that the contest is too close to call, with Gillum ahead 50-47 but the gap within the margin of error. A more interesting number: Quinnipiac found that 94 percent of likely voters have already made up their minds, meaning that a candidate able to find non-traditional voters could have the advantage.