1990 Florida gubernatorial election

← 1986 November 6, 1990 1994 →
Lawton Chiles 3x4.jpg
Bob Martinez 3x4.jpg
Nominee Lawton Chiles Bob Martinez
Party Democratic Republican
Running mate Buddy MacKay J. Allison DeFoor
Popular vote 1,995,206 1,535,068
Percentage 56.5% 43.5%

1990 Florida gubernatorial election results map by county.svg
County results
Chiles:      50–60%      60–70%      70–80%
Martinez:      50–60%      60–70%

Governor before election

Bob Martinez

Elected Governor

Lawton Chiles

The 1990 Florida gubernatorial election took place on November 6, 1990. Incumbent Republican Governor Bob Martinez ran for a second term in office, but was defeated by Democratic challenger Lawton Chiles, a former U.S. Senator. As of 2023, this remains the last time in which an incumbent Florida Governor lost reelection.[original research?]


Incumbent Republican Governor Bob Martinez, who was just the second member of his party elected Governor of Florida after Reconstruction, was deeply unpopular. His job approval rating had sunk to around 24% after, in 1989, he called the Florida Legislature into special session in an effort to pass pro-life laws. None of the governor's proposals made it out of committee.

Republican primary


Governor Martinez flashes the V sign with his running mate, Monroe County Sheriff Allison DeFoor, on June 4.
Governor Martinez flashes the V sign with his running mate, Monroe County Sheriff Allison DeFoor, on June 4.
  • Running mate: Walter D. Murray, retired Army nurse and Davis's longtime family friend[1]
  • Running mate: Charles McDonald, owner of an electronic security company in Miami[1]
  • Running mate: Barbara Lindsey, candidate for Agriculture Commissioner in 1982[1]
  • Running mate: J. Allison DeFoor, Sheriff of Monroe County
  • Running mate:Eric "Rip" Weiler, retired Tampa businessman


State Senator Marlene Woodson-Howard announced a primary challenge to Governor Martinez during the special legislative session, which she referred to as "hell on wheels."[2] She had been at odds with Martinez since 1987, their first year in office, when Martinez backed a sales tax on services; he eventually withdrew his support after public polling showed a backlash. Though she was critical of Martinez's proposed restrictions on abortion, she did sponsor a proposal to notify parents if their teenage daughters sought an abortion.[2]

Woodson-Howard focused her campaign on education and proposed a constitutional amendment to prioritize it in state spending. She had little hope of victory against Martinez, relying on public financing and a personal loan of $30,000, while Martinez promised to raise $12 to 15 million in private contributions.[2] Nevertheless, Woodson-Howard cited her upset victory over Senate Appropriations chair Pat Neal in 1986 as evidence for upset potential.[2]

Martinez originally intended to delay his campaign until after the primary, but his popularity declined so precipitously that he launched a series of television ads in February and again in August.[1] As his running mate, he chose Sheriff Allison DeFoor of Key West, who was seen as a drug warrior and environmentalist, emphasizing two key themes of the Martinez campaign.[1]


Republican primary results[3]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bob Martinez (incumbent) 460,718 69.00%
Republican Marlene Woodson-Howard 132,565 19.80%
Republican John Davis 34,720 5.20%
Republican Andy Martin 28,591 4.30%
Republican Warren H. Folks 11,587 1.70%
Total votes 668,181 100.00%

Democratic primary


  • Running mate: Buddy MacKay, former U.S. Representative from Ocala and nominee for U.S. Senate in 1988


The Democratic primary was a contest between former U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles and U.S. Representative Bill Nelson.

Nelson began assembling a campaign shortly after Martinez won the 1986 election. He appeared to be well on his way to the nomination, having raised millions of dollars and without a clear opponent, when former U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles announced his campaign on April 12.[1] The popular 60-year-old Chiles, who retired in 1989 after serious health problems, had previously said he would not run. He named as his running mate former U.S. Representative Buddy MacKay, who had narrowly lost the race to succeed Chiles in 1988.[1]

Despite advice to bow out, Nelson remained in the race and began a negative campaign against Chiles's record, attacking his business dealings and failure to report certain transactions on Senate disclosure forms. In turn, Nelson was criticized for stretching the truth.[1] Chiles used the slogan "People vs. Money" and focused his counter-attacks on special-interest donations, limiting his own campaign contributions to $100 per donor and skewering Nelson for accepting money from bankers, developers, and lawyers.[1]

Nelson's campaign was buried under criticism when his running mate, retiring Speaker of the House Tom Gustafson, referenced Chiles's clinical depression and use of Prozac, saying, "I don't want to have a suicide during his term of office or during the election."[1] Nelson distanced himself from the statement, and Gustafson later apologized.[1]


Democratic primary results[4]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Lawton Chiles 746,325 69.5
Democratic Bill Nelson 327,731 30.5
Total votes 1,074,056 100.0


Nelson went on to win election as Florida State Treasurer in 1994 and United States Senator, serving in Chiles's former seat, in 2000.

General election


  • Buddy MacKay, former U.S. Representative from Ocala and nominee for U.S. Senate in 1988
  • J. Allison DeFoor, Sheriff of Monroe County

Campaign finances


Florida gubernatorial election, 1990[7]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Lawton Chiles 1,995,206 56.51% +11.07
Republican Bob Martinez (incumbent) 1,535,068 43.48% -11.09
Write-in 597 0.0% N/A
Total votes 3,530,871 100.00% N/A
Democratic gain from Republican


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Debenport, Ellen (30 Aug 1990). "THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 21 Sep 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e Kleindeinst, Lisa. "Candidate Says She's No Puppet: Woodson-Howard Speaks for Herself". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 21 Sep 2022.
  3. ^ "Florida Department of State - Election Results".
  4. ^ "Florida Department of State - Election Results".
  5. ^ Our Campaigns - FL Governor Race - Nov 06, 1990
  6. ^ Our Campaigns - FL Governor Race - Nov 06, 1990
  7. ^ "Florida Department of State - Election Results".