TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum must pick their running mates by a Thursday deadline.
Based on recent political history, you can expect the candidates to bring some demographic and geographic diversity to the general-election tickets with their selections for lieutenant governor.
But while rumors and speculation swirl about who might be tapped by DeSantis and Gillum, history has also shown the lieutenant-governor candidates are not likely to have much impact on the outcome of what will be one of the highest-profile elections in the nation this fall.
The primary duty of the Florida lieutenant governor, a post that was re-established in 1968, is to succeed the governor if he or she is incapacitated or dies.
That transition last happened in December 1998, when Gov. Lawton Chiles died and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay became governor, filling the office for the last month of Chiles’ two-term administration.
Talking to reporters after his primary-election victory, DeSantis, the Republican nominee, said his “first criteria” in selecting a running mate would be to find someone who could step in as governor if necessary.
A secondary consideration would be someone who could help him “advance an agenda” and perhaps have expertise on “certain niche issues,” DeSantis said.
“I don’t really necessarily just want somebody hanging around. I want them to be actively involved,” DeSantis said. “So I’m going to be looking for someone who can be value-added, not just in the election but once you become governor and are working to implement an agenda.”
Gillum, the Democratic nominee, will look at similar criteria, and both campaigns are likely weighing running mates that will broaden or balance the appeal of their tickets.
For instance, in the last gubernatorial election in 2014, both candidates had running mates from Miami-Dade County, which with 1.4 million voters has the largest county electorate in the state.
Both 2014 gubernatorial nominees also had Hispanic running mates, with Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera running as Republicans against Democrat Charlie Crist and his running mate, Annette Taddeo, who is now a state senator.
Another consideration in the process is the long-held mantra from political consultants that the selection of a lieutenant governor should “first do no harm.” That means the potential running mates must be well-vetted to avoid controversies that could damage the general-election ticket.
Missteps by a lieutenant governor have not seriously damaged a gubernatorial candidate in recent elections. But governors and candidates have parted ways with their running mates.
The last time came when Scott forced Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the first African-American elected to the office, to resign in 2013 after she became embroiled in the investigation of a group linked to internet cafes. She was never charged with any wrongdoing. Scott picked Lopez-Cantera to replace her.
But lieutenant governors can also help governors. MacKay played a key role in the Chiles administration. And Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, a former Senate president, helped Gov. Jeb Bush navigate the legislative process during his second term.
Aside from the two major parties, Darcy Richardson, running for governor as a Reform Party candidate, has picked former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano as his running mate.