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'Geeks4Gillum' and A Republican Brunch Club Bring Out Young Voters For Governor's Race

Young people in Florida have registered to vote in big numbers heading into the midterm elections. In South Florida, teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s are organizing phone banks, canvassing tours and social media campaigns in support of both candidates for governor.

Here's a portrait of the young voters in our communities who are excited about Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis.


They're into board games, science and Andrew Gillum.

That's what a group of about 25 people enthusiastically acknowledged they had in common as they gathered in a back room at the popular Wynwood bar Gramps one night last month. It was one of 13 events around Florida united under the hashtag: "Geeks4Gillum."

"Raise your hand if you identify as a geek, nerd, dweeb," said Matt Mawhinney, 33, said into a microphone on a small stage in the event space. For the occasion, he was wearing black, thick-framed glasses with a piece of tape on the rim.

Mawhinney organized the happy hour, which aimed to bring together people in the local technology and science community to advocate for Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor. 

Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Above: Event organizer Matt Mawhinney helps an attendee pose for a video she will later post on social media to promote Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. Below: A sign shows the way to the Geeks4Gillum event at Gramps in Wynwood last month. There are a dozen other similarly named events around the state, including in Key West.

His goal was to launch a grassroots social media campaign supporting Gillum. The 2016 presidential election demonstrated the effect social media can have on people's decisions at the voting booth, he argued. So he asked the people in attendance to make short videos explaining why they support Gillum and post them to their Facebook accounts.

There were props available, including a pile of print-outs of popular internet graphics labeled "dank meme stash."

"I think about not just the people who are here in this room, but the 10 to 20 to 30 persuadable voters in all of their social media networks," Mawhinney said about the potential reach of his event.

Mawhinney works for LaunchCode, an organization that provides free coding education and places people in tech jobs. He also hosts a podcast called "Drinks With Politicians," in which he records a live conversation with a public figure at a bar.

During the "Geeks4Gillum" event, Mawhinney highlighted Gillum's record on technology in Tallahassee, where he's mayor. The city has a 120-acre solar power farm.

He then asked the group to write their priorities for a Governor Gillum on post-its. They stuck them on the wall — some didn't want to stay put — and he asked one of the attendees to read them out loud.

Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Above: People gathered for Miami's Geeks4Gillum event read what the attendees wrote as their priorities for Andrew Gillum, should he win the governor's race. Below: A group favorite priority: put a camera on every manatee.

"These two both just say weed," one person said, laughing. Gillum has pledged to legalize recreational marijuana.

Other priorities they wrote: repealing the controversial "stand your ground" law, supporting public schools, increasing access to health care.

Someone reads another post-it out loud: "One of my favorites is: 'put a camera on every single manatee.'"

Mawhinney laughed and commented, that sounds like a good use of public dollars.

As the weeknight happy hour event got started, Luisa Santos stood outside the door of the room asking people to sign in on a computer. She canceled the standing Tuesday night phone bank she hosts for Gillum at her small business for the so-called "geek-out" event.

Santos owns Lulu's, an ice cream shop on Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater.

She said she has wondered whether taking a public political stance could hurt her business. But she decided she felt strongly enough about electing Democrats to do so anyway. She was featured in a campaign ad for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

"I didn't become a citizen until two years ago," said Santos, who was born in Colombia. "And so I treasure and value my responsibility to be engaged."

She shot her video for Gillum in her business. It starts with her staring into a metal mixing bowl, as nitrogen gas envelops her face. (She uses the element to makes her ice cream extra smooth.)

"Hi! My name is Luisa and I live in Miami!" she says excitedly into the camera.

Then she says, she plays with nitrogen all day — that's what makes her a geek. And she's excited about Gillum's stances on immigration and education.

Read More: In Florida, Hurricanes Bring Out The Political Theater


At the GOP office in Cooper City, Ron DeSantis signs are taped to the windows for people walking by. The campaign office is in a strip mall, sandwiched between a hair salon and a Tuesday Morning. 

Inside, there's a wall-sized American flag hanging from the ceiling — and a life-sized cutout of President Donald Trump. 

On Saturday mornings leading up to the election, there's breakfast for volunteers on one of the tables, with bagels, eggs, and pineapple juice. 

"Treat yourself to breakfast if you want, there's also coffee on the other side," one woman calls out as volunteers start to walk in. 

Volunteers and members of the Broward Young Republicans are eating before going to canvas door-to door for Republican candidates in Hollywood.

"I see Ron DeSantis as being a governor for our time," said Matthew Thomas Oberly, 28, who works for the Republican Party. He coordinates volunteers every weekend, and chairs the Broward Young Republicans.


Broward Young Republicans
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN
Matthew Thomas Oberly, chairs the Broward Young Republicans Chapter for the Florida Federation of Young Republicans.

"I think it's really simple. He's gonna protect my future," Oberly said, adding he's most excited about DeSantis' pledge to keep taxes low.

"When we have this discussion, it's important that we talk about issues that relate to young people," he said. "We thrive when we have money in our pockets."

Daniel De Urbina, a 16-year-old student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, is one of the volunteers who signed up to campaign for Republican candidates. He likes DeSantis' low taxes-pledge, too, but said it's about more than that for him. 

"It's about financial freedom — being able to control what's yours," he said. 

While De Urbina can't vote yet, he's been getting involved in campaign efforts for a few election cycles now. 

"Even in middle school, I was just, like, debating my teachers," he said. 

So he started phone banking for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump when he was 14. 

"Especially in the 2016 election, I just noticed: This is really a moment where we're deciding what direction we're headed in as a country," he said. "I realized that if I do really care that much, then I need to do my part in making sure that we are headed in that direction we should be headed." 

De Urbina said the biggest reason he supports DeSantis for Governor, is school safety after the Parkland school shooting. 

"I know we have Ron DeSantis' support," De Urbina said. "Sometimes we believe 'The Swamp' is only in [Washington] D.C., but 'The Swamp' is really right here. It's in your school board."


breakfast foods
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN
The Broward Young Republicans chapter has about 60 active members right now, Oberly said. The group organized breakfast for all of the volunteers at the Cooper City GOP campaign office.

Nicholas Preston, 18, is also still in high school. A senior at Cooper City high, he has come to stuff pamphlets — wearing a full suit. 

"Ron DeSantis is just, like, a family man. He's just a nice guy," Preston said. "He supports Trump, which is good. He's going to keep the country safe. ... You're going to get policies tailored to Florida."

Preston identifies as libertarian-right. He hopes to go into the military after college, which is part of why he's volunteering for Republican candidates at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. 

"I kind of want someone who supports the military as well. ... That's kind of an easy choice," Preston said.

Preston and De Urbina both came to meet other young Republicans and participate in a political process in which they feel like they can make a difference. 

As De Urbina gets ready to start going door-to-door after breakfast, he said he hopes he can bring awareness to people about what candidates like DeSantis stand for. 

"And hopefully change some voters minds," he said.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.