In The Race For Florida Governor, How Important Are The Running Mates?

Sep 12, 2018

Until last week, there was plenty of speculation about who the two major party nominees for Florida governor would choose as their running mates.

Eventually, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis named Miami State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, while Democrat Andrew Gillum tapped one of his primary opponents, Orlando businessman Chris King.

With less than eight weeks until the general election, the recent picks are bringing the role of Florida lieutenant governor into sharper focus.

After the Civil War, for 20 years the lieutenant governor of Florida was elected independently of the governor. The position was officially abolished by the post-Reconstruction Constitution of 1885. But it was brought back 50 years ago when the state constitution was revised in 1968.

WLRN's Christine DiMattei talked with News Service of Florida reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger about what affect -- if any -- running mates have on Florida's gubernatorial elections.

WLRN: According to state law, what is the role of the lieutenant governor? What are the job requirements?

DUNKLEBERGER: There are basically none except they are in a position to succeed the governor in the case of a death or incapacitation or if the governor resigned for some reason. That's literally their only job function.

It’s been observed that when choosing a running mate, gubernatorial candidates generally try to follow the “Do No Harm” rule. What does the phrase mean in politics?

Basically, you don't want to have any controversies; you don't want to have any skeletons in the closet that are going to take away from the person at the top of the ticket. Because in the end, the lieutenant governor is really not going to make or break any of these candidates unless they get somehow involved in some sort of egregious incident or controversy -- which in modern history, really hasn't happened.

Let’s look at the specific running-mate picks in this race. How does DeSantis benefit by choosing Jeanette Nuñez?

This is kind of a classic pick. He's diversified his ticket demographically. She's from South Florida. She's Hispanic. She comes from Miami-Dade, which is the county with the most votes in the state. The other thing that helps DeSantis -- Nuñez is a legislator. That doesn't necessarily help him in the election. But it will help him long-term dealing with the Legislature, which is one of the critical roles for governor.

Many high-profile Democrats had been hoping Andrew Gillum would choose his other primary opponent, Gwen Graham, who was doing very well in the polls. What does Gillum gain by choosing Chris King?

Basically, he doubled down on his appeal to the progressive wing of the party. He and King are almost like mirror images of each other in terms of politics and even personally; both are 39-year-olds. They both have families with three young children. But he is clearly making a play toward trying to energize the left wing, the progressive wing. 

You've reported that these running mate picks will really have no effect on the outcome of the election. If that's the case, what will it take for voters to sit up and pay attention to gubernatorial running mates?

We'd probably have to amend the Constitution or establish some statute to give the lieutenant governor more duties, like some role in the state Senate or the head of an agency. Otherwise, they're kind of relegated to the sidelines. Unless the governor specifically gives them some sort of duties, we just don't hear about the lieutenant governors. And I think that's one of the reasons they really are not that critical in the election.