An anti-establishment Republican backed by Donald Trump and a black Democrat endorsed by Bernie Sanders will face each other in Florida’s gubernatorial election in November.
The race, in the country’s biggest swing state, is a sign of the increasing polarisation among voters during the Trump administration with sharp divides over issues like immigration, the environment and health care.
Florida is the country’s third most populous state after California and Texas and will be a decisive vote in the next presidential election, where the US president won by just one percentage point in 2016.
The result of its governor’s race in this year’s midterm elections will be a temperature test for voters’ attitudes ahead of the 2020 presidential vote. President Trump’s pick, congressman Ron DeSantis, beat the establishment favourite Adam Putnam in Tuesday night’s primary for the Republican nomination.
The three-term congressman, who makes frequent Fox News appearances, is known as an immigration hard-liner in a state where Hispanic voters hold a large sway.
Mr DeSantis campaigned on a pro-Trump platform and in one campaign advert encourages his toddler to “build the wall” with toy blocks – a nod to Mr Trump’s planned border wall with Mexico.
On the Democratic side, Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, beat a crowded field that included establishment favourite Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman and daughter of Florida political icon Bob Graham.
Mr Gillum is on the more progressive side of the party, having earned the backing of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, and campaigned for universal health care.
He will become Florida’s first black governor if he wins the race in November but faces a tough battle – the state has not elected a Democratic governor since 1999.
His Republican rival was accused of racist dog-whistle comments about him on Wednesday, as he urged voters not to "monkey this up" by voting for the Democrat.
“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” Mr DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News.
“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Terrie Rizzo, Florida’s Democratic party chairwoman, told the Huffington Post.
Mr DeSantis’ spokesman has denied the remarks had racial overtones.
The gulf between the two candidates shows the deep divide in the country – with the new Republican party under Mr Trump facing off against the progressive Democratic left.
Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream….a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018
Mr Trump called Mr Gillum a "failed socialist mayor" in a tweet on Wednesday as he hailed the success of his Republican candidate.
In a televised cabinet meeting, Mr Trump said he had not heard Mr DeSantis’ controversial remarks and praised the Republican candidate as an "extreme talent".
"He’ll make a fantastic governor for Florida," Mr Trump added.
Voters also went to the polls in Arizona on Tuesday night, where three Republican candidates battled to be nominated for Senator Jeff Flake’s seat.
Mr Flake, a vocal critic of Mr Trump, announced he would not be running for re-election in October and used the announcement to deliver a sharp rebuke to the US president.
On Tuesday Martha McSally, a moderate candidate, defeated immigration hardliners Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward to win the party’s nomination.
Mr Arpaio, known as "America’s toughest sheriff", was convicted of criminal contempt last year for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining immigrants in the country illegally.
Mr Trump later pardoned him and he had been backed by a number of Republicans in Tuesday’s primary.
While Mr Trump did not pick a favourite, all three had aligned themselves with his administration.
He threw his support behind the winner, Ms McSally, on Wednesday. She faces Democrat Krysten Sinema, who is widely considered well-positioned, in the November race.