In a debate which featured fights over guns, race, policing and the environment, Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum had a fiercely contested debate last night in Tampa, Florida. DeSantis opened the debate by saying Gillum is a failed and corrupt mayor. Gillum is currently the Mayor of Tallahassee.
That flashpoint was the beginning of DeSantis’s game plan: name-dropping President Donald Trump at every moment, throw out conspiracies denigrating Gillum’s ability to be an American and of course remaining true to the current GOP playbook: paint each Democrat as a Socialist.
In response, Gillum called DeSantis a Trump “stooge”. DeSantis’s primary win happened directly from the President’s endorsement.
“Donald Trump is weak,” Gillum said. “And he performs as all weak people do: they become bullies and Mr. DeSantis is his acolyte. He’s trying out to be the Trump apprentice at every turn. He’s tweeting at him and he’s talking to him. He’s showing up. He’s complimenting him.”
As the verbal jousting continued, the candidates argued over accusations from the DeSantis camp that an ongoing FBI investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee has implicated Gillum in wrongdoing. Gillum has repeatedly stated that the FBI told him he was not a focus of the probe, which centers on the relationships between developers and lobbyists in the state capital, including one with longstanding connections to Gillum. In the course of the investigation, Gillum once unknowingly attended the Broadway hit musical “Hamilton” in the company of an undercover agent.
“Did you pay for the Hamilton tickets?,” DeSantis asked.
Gillum never directly answered DeSantis. His campaign has said the ticket was given to him by his brother Marcus, who attended the show with him, the agent and a lobbyist friend, Adam Corey, who volunteered as finance chair on Gillum’s 2014 mayoral campaign.
“We all have friends that sometimes let us down,” Gillum said of Corey, while also pushing back at DeSantis with a suggestion this, too, was a racial dog whistle: “I’m a hard working person,” he added. “I know that may not fit your description of what you think people like me do.”
“I am not under FBI investigation and neither is my city government,” Gillum said. “And what we have done is we welcome [the FBI] in.”
During the debate, DeSantis was forced to face the accusations that he has tried to use Gillum’s race against him. The most high profile incident came in the first 24 hours after the August 28th primary, when DeSantis went on Fox News and warned Floridians vote against for Gillum, who stands to be the state’s first African American governor.
“We’ve gotta work hard that we continue Florida going in a good direction, lets build off the success we’ve had on governor Scott,” said DeSantis August 28th. “The last thing we need to do is monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”The Republican vigorously denied that his comment was about race, saying, “Floridians can know that I’ll be a governor for all Floridians.”
Gillum responded, “He has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is, I’ve been black all of my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”
Next, DeSantis made sure to cast himself as the “law-and-order” candidate. The Republican candidate was a former US Navy prosecutor; as the questions arose regarding Tallahassee’s murder rate. DeSantis said Gillum was unfit to lead. Meanwhile, Gillum noted the murder rate was falling in Leon County. It served as the perfect transition to Parkland. Seventeen people died at the hands of a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th in Parkland, Fla. He suffered from mental health issues and his mother escorted him to get an AK-47. Gillum vociferously went after DeSantis’s defense of law enforcement’s handling of the mass shooting to the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) influence in politics.“He is wholly owned by the NRA,” Gillum said of DeSantis. “He’s not going to stand up to the National Rifle Association — that’s why they’re running all these ads against me. Because they want the man that they bought.”DeSantis defended his past comment that he would have vetoed a measure signed earlier this year by current Gov. Rick Scott (R) that raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm in the state.
Currently, DeSantis and Gillum are locked in a dead heat.