Andrew Gillum hopped from college campus to college campus Thursday in South Florida pitching student-loan forgiveness, climate action and a stronger economy.
The modest crowds the Democrat running for Florida governor addressed weren’t in need of convincing, but Gillum preached to the choir anyway, because he needs them to show up at church. In this case, Election Day.
“It matters who the next governor is of the great state of Florida. If you were like me when I was in college, and I needed a little bit of financial aid to make my way through, then it matters that we have a governor who understands what that means,” Gillum said during a late-morning appearance at Florida International University’s Modesto A. Maidique campus in west Dade.
History is not on Gillum’s side. Young people in the past have voted at abysmally low rates. During the 2014 midterm election, only 22 percent of the 2.2 million registered voters in Florida aged 18 to 29 voted. Seniors voted at a rate three times as high that same election — 64 percent of 3.3 million registered voters aged 65 and above voted.
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This year, however, the first few days of early voting have shown a higher young-voter turnout than usual. Daniel Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Florida, said the young-voter turnout in 2018 is about double what it was in 2014.
“Are they turning out more? Yes. Are they turning out anywhere closer to older voters? No,” Smith said. “It’s a glass half-full and a glass half-empty story.”
And what’s most important perhaps: Smith thinks there’s “virtually no chance” young voters will turn out at a rate high enough to make a difference.
Young people tend to vote less because they move a lot, aren’t used to voting and lack transportation, among other reasons, Smith said. Gillum’s college tour was meant to show he believes in them.
“Everyone is watching to see whether or not this was just a blimp on the screen of youth activism or whether you’re going to make it work by showing up at the polls at record numbers,” Gillum, who is running against Republican Ron DeSantis, told students. “I believe the latter. I believe ya’ll are going to show up.”
Gillum is backed heavily by Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen America, which has spent millions on pushing young voter turnout. And the youth movement that emerged following the February shooting at Marjory Stone Douglas in Parkland has also created hope that young people will vote in higher numbers.
At a Florida Memorial University auditorium in the early afternoon, he told students he “relied on them.” He was playful at the Florida Atlantic University campus in Boca Raton in the late afternoon — “Nobody’s skipping class today? I’m not governor yet, I can’t sign any excuses.” At FIU, he ended the event by taking a mass selfie.
Gillum repeatedly pitched the students on a bright future and an election that will matter for decades down the road.
“Follow your dreams,” he said. “I want you to do it in this state.”
He proposed an economy that can “absorb their talent” when they graduate and provide low-interest rates to those who want to start a business. He offered a greener environment, rid of blue-green algae and full of solar power.
He tendered affordable housing and “21st century transportation” so they won’t have to spend two-and-a-half hours commuting to work.
“This is about the future. Politics is like driving a car,” Gillum said. “When you want to go forward you go in D. When you want to go backward you go in R.”