DeSantis and Gillum spar over race, Trump in contentious Florida governor debate

Hours after a new CNN poll found him trailing by double digits in their race to become the next governor of ...

Posted: Oct 22, 2018 12:33 PM
Updated: Oct 22, 2018 12:33 PM

Hours after a new CNN poll found him trailing by double digits in their race to become the next governor of Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis leapt out of the gates to attack Democrat Andrew Gillum in his opening remarks at their first debate.

DeSantis, a former GOP congressman who resigned to focus on this contest, began the CNN debate by calling Gillum a "failed mayor" and alleging that he was "involved in corruption" before the Democrat had a turn to speak.

Andrew Gillum

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"Well, that was a mouthful," Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, deadpanned in response.

Few campaigns in 2018 have run so directly parallel to the broader national political fight -- and this, like so much else in the era, had the feel of a brawl. DeSantis spent more time on the offensive, perhaps feeling he needed to change the trajectory of a campaign that's found him consistently on the back foot, while Gillum sought to downplay accusations of impropriety, while talking up his health care plan and casting himself as the more competent choice to lead the state.

The rapid-fire, one-hour debate kicked off with a sharp exchange -- initiated by CNN's Jake Tapper, who moderated from Tampa -- over climate change and its outsized effects on a state that was slammed only a couple weeks ago by yet another devastating hurricane and is currently at war with a harmful algae bloom.

DeSantis denied claims he denies the science behind the issue, saying, "I don't want to be an alarmist. I want to look at this and do what makes sense for Florida," and touted his recent endorsement by the Everglades Trust.

Gillum, who has the backing of the Sierra Club, called the Republican "an election year environmentalist."

"What Florida voters need to know is that when they elect me governor, they are going to have a governor who believes in science," he said, "which we haven't had for quite some time in this state."

DeSantis was also forced to confront concerns that he has tried to use Gillum's race against him. The most high profile incident came in the first 24 hours after the primary, when DeSantis went on Fox News and warned Floridians not to "monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda" and voting for Gillum, who stands to be the state's first African American governor.

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."

Though his upset victory in the primary was driven by an endorsement from President Donald Trump, DeSantis sought to keep some space from the President, never quite answering whether he considered Trump a good "role model," and instead talking up the administration's decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Gillum, who also called DeSantis a Trump "stooge," took the question as an opportunity to tie his opponent to the President

"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."

After the face-off ended, Trump tweeted to declare for DeSantis "a great debate victory tonight against Andrew Gillum."

Early on in the course of a rollicking hour, the candidates also broke into a heated exchange over suggestions from the DeSantis camp that an ongoing FBI investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee has implicated Gillum in wrongdoing.

Gillum has repeatedly said that 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 insisted he's always paid his own way as he came up as a young political star, but 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."

The candidates' exchange over health care was less bruising, but pushed DeSantis into a political corner inhabited by many Republicans this midterm season, as he effectively pitted himself against the party's own efforts to dismantle Obamacare.

Though those efforts, both in Congress and the courts, succeeded in changing the law and ending coverage regulations for people who have pre-existing conditions, DeSantis said, he would push through statewide legislation to counteract them.

"I will sign a bill to take care of people with pre-existing conditions," he said, before pivoting to jab repeatedly at Gillum's support for "Medicare for all" single-payer health care. DeSantis warned that it would end current programs, many of them popular -- which is true, though single-payer advocates argue the replacement would be more comprehensive.

Gillum flinched a bit, not defending the program which is a non-starter in Florida and most states around the country, instead seeking to talk up his plans to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. DeSantis opposes that, but has not yet released a health care plan of his own. His campaign website's "issues" page makes no mention of it.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 69374

Reported Deaths: 1989
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5700119
DeSoto371031
Harrison260136
Madison245569
Jackson231444
Rankin230735
Jones193159
Forrest182656
Washington170142
Lee152142
Lauderdale141592
Neshoba128892
Lamar123115
Bolivar113635
Oktibbeha113339
Warren112535
Lowndes109239
Panola106816
Sunflower105625
Scott101120
Lafayette98719
Copiah96228
Leflore94966
Pike94037
Holmes91049
Grenada85123
Pontotoc8429
Yazoo84113
Lincoln83442
Monroe82155
Simpson80631
Leake79526
Coahoma78113
Wayne78021
Tate74330
Marshall7129
Marion68420
Union66216
Adams63225
Winston62916
Covington62214
George5956
Pearl River55940
Newton54511
Tallahatchie54111
Attala52725
Walthall50221
Chickasaw47619
Noxubee46112
Tishomingo4377
Alcorn4355
Calhoun4259
Prentiss42310
Claiborne40914
Smith40613
Hancock40214
Clay40114
Jasper3949
Itawamba38710
Tippah37414
Tunica3587
Clarke33626
Montgomery3295
Lawrence3238
Yalobusha31610
Humphreys29712
Quitman2691
Carroll26111
Greene25612
Perry2428
Amite2376
Webster23712
Kemper23314
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21513
Stone2115
Sharkey2045
Jefferson1957
Benton1451
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 100801

Reported Deaths: 1814
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13366246
Mobile10581212
Montgomery6825151
Madison546934
Tuscaloosa426979
Unassigned392566
Baldwin367029
Shelby333437
Marshall319438
Lee270847
Morgan241819
Etowah218034
DeKalb183414
Calhoun181918
Elmore176039
Walker154465
Houston142813
Russell13892
St. Clair136320
Limestone135913
Dallas133624
Franklin129722
Cullman123012
Colbert121517
Lauderdale119020
Autauga116222
Escambia108817
Talladega105414
Jackson10264
Tallapoosa87579
Chambers84738
Dale84329
Clarke82610
Chilton8189
Blount8165
Butler77036
Coffee7656
Covington74021
Pike7137
Marion58226
Barbour5796
Lowndes57124
Marengo56616
Hale48526
Bullock48111
Winston45711
Perry4454
Bibb4445
Washington44412
Wilcox43410
Monroe4236
Pickens4089
Randolph40211
Conecuh39310
Sumter36618
Lawrence3542
Macon33914
Crenshaw3326
Choctaw28912
Cherokee2768
Clay2675
Geneva2652
Henry2643
Greene25211
Lamar2302
Fayette2235
Cleburne1291
Coosa1053
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