RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The goal among Republicans running in this year's midterms is clear - try to out-Trump (ph) the competition; in other words, demonstrate that they are the ones to push President Trump's agenda. That game was on full display in both Arizona and Florida last night in primary elections there. But in Florida, the big surprise actually came on the Democrat side in the primary vote for governor. Progressive favorite Andrew Gillum scored an upset victory over former Congresswoman Gwen Graham. And he did so without ever leading in a single poll. Here's Gillum in his victory speech last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANDREW GILLUM: Right here in the state of Florida tonight, we have shown the rest of the country that we can be the David in the situation where there's a Goliath.
MARTIN: We've got NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro with us to talk more about these results. Hey, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: So, as I noted, Andrew Gillum totally the underdog in the Democratic primary. How did he pull this off?
MONTANARO: You know, he had a lot of energy going into the final days of the race. He had Bernie Sanders come into the state for him. They drew some thousand people in Tampa earlier this month. And it was right then that you could see that there was some momentum starting. You know, the Democratic favorite was Gwen Graham who's the daughter of the former governor and senator of the state, Bob Graham. But the base didn't feel like she was exciting enough. And you have Gillum, who you could hear in that tape. He's dynamic. He's young. He's energetic. And he's a strong progressive. And he was able to rally that base for a narrow win last night.
MARTIN: I mean, this has been the tension - right? - for Democrats figuring out, do they tack left? Do they tack to the center? What does this - can we extract anything about Gillum's win in Florida? What does it mean for Florida in the general in November?
MONTANARO: Well, first of all, he had a very clear message. He ran on a lot of these progressive ideals - expanding Medicaid, $15 minimum wage - a lot of the things that we'd heard about. So, you know, the clarity of message is one big thing. But really what this now sets up here is what is going to be, I think, the hottest race to watch this fall - something of a, you know, the Trump-Sanders race that never actually happened in 2016 here. 'Cause you've got a 50/50 state. You have progressives fired up on the left. You have the base on the Republican side fired up for Ron DeSantis...
MONTANARO: ...Who is the Republican nominee. He tied himself very closely to President Trump. And by the way, we should point out, Republicans had higher turnout last night overall than Democrats in this race. So this sets up a key race in a 50/50 state, the swing state of swing states. Sit back. It's going to be fun.
MARTIN: OK. So in the intro, I talked about everyone's - on the GOP at least, a lot of people trying to out-Trump each other. This was definitely the case in Arizona, the race to fill Republican Senator Jeff Flake's seat, in particular. Sheriff Joe, a familiar name, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who Trump pardoned actually. He was running in this primary against two other candidates who were trying to tether themselves to Trump. Who came out on top?
MONTANARO: Well, Sheriff Joe did not get an insignificant amount of votes, but he wound up losing. The Republican favorite, Martha McSally, is the one who won. She won pretty handily. She's a congresswoman, a former fighter pilot, and she's going very hotly negative right out of the gate against the Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema. And that's because Sinema has been tacking to the center this entire primary season, running ads focused on being an independent. She's a Democrat. She's started as a Green party activist, actually. In the House, she's tacked to the center. But because of that, she's opened up a little bit of a lead. And this is a key race for Democrats to try to take back the Senate. If they're going to be able to try to do that, this is a place they probably have to win. So she's already gone after her - Martha McSally going after Sinema - saying, for example, last night in her victory speech, that while she respects Hollywood glitz and is glad that Kyrsten Sinema has over 100 shoes, she, as a fighter pilot, had flown over 100 missions.
MARTIN: OK, then. That's tough to come back from.
MONTANARO: It's going to be a nasty race.
MARTIN: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.