Republican DeSantis selects State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez; Democrat Gillum picks primary rival Chris King
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ORLANDO (CFP) — The major party candidates for Florida governor have announced picks for their running mates for lieutenant governor.
The Republican nominee, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis from Ponte Vedra, has picked State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Cuban-American legislator from Miami. The Democratic nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, picked Chris King, an Orlando businessman who ran against him in the primary.
The selection of Nuñez is noteworthy because of her previous criticism of President Donald Trump, who has been a close ally of DeSantis.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, when she was supporting U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, she called Trump a “con man,” described herself as “never Trump” and accused him of supporting the Ku Klux Klan.
Asked about those critical comments while campaigning with DeSantis in Orlando after the running mate announcement, she said, “We’re here talking about moving forward. Elections are elections. It is what it is.”
“That election is done, and I’m looking forward to this election,” she said.
DeSantis, whose primary victory was fueled by supportive tweets from Trump, described her comments as part of a primary “tussle” in which she was supporting a hometown candidate.
“To support Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, if I were in her shoes I probably would have been supporting Marco as well,” he said.
In a show of Republican unity, the man DeSantis defeated in the primary, State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, was on hand to campaign with the new ticket.
Nuñez, 46, was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, working her way up through the GOP leadership to become speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 position, in 2016.
As a legislator, she worked for passage of a bill that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities, a position contrary to the hard-line stance on illegal immigration embraced by both Trump and DeSantis.
If elected in November, she would become the first Cuban-American woman to serve as lieutenant governor. The current lieutenant governor, Carlos López-Cantera, is also Cuban-American, a community that has long been an important faction in Florida Republican politics.
On the Democratic side, Gillum picked King, who came in fifth place in the Democratic primary for governor that Gillum narrowly won.
The pairing was announced in a Facebook video in which both men said the personal relationship they developed on the campaign trail led to King’s selection.
“I developed a friendship with Andrew Gillum over 18 months as we were competing,” he said. “I came to care for him. I came to admire him.”
King, 39, is a lawyer and real estate investor whose run for governor was his first foray into the political arena.
In picking King, Gillum passed over the woman he narrowly defeated for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, who had been considered the favorite in the race before Gillum’s surprise victory.
In Florida, the office of lieutenant governor is not independently elected, and candidates for governor pick running mates after the primary.
Though 17 states use the same system, running mates are uncommon in the South, with only Florida and Kentucky selecting lieutenant governors this way.