Campaigns for two major candidates competing for Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination traded verbal jabs Thursday.
Former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham has been the early leader in the four-person field, but Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine declared it’s now becoming a two-person race.
That left the Graham camp feeling “threatened” by the challenge, Levine claimed in a radio interview.
The war of words began the day before when Levine appeared in Tallahassee Wednesday as part of his statewide “Live! from Florida’s Living Room” bus tour.
Levine boasted his background in the private sector, where he became a multimillionaire in the cruise-ship media industry.
“The fact that I’ve had that weird thing in my background called a job, the fact that I’ve actually done something with my life outside the public sector is probably a big differentiator,” he said, as first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’m a person who started with $500 and a pocketful of dreams, built some companies, employed hundreds of people if not thousands, and then I gave back and became a successful, two-term mayor of Miami Beach.”
Graham worked in the private sector as an attorney before focusing on starting a family and raising three children. She later volunteered to serve on her children’s school advisory board and as PTA president, then working for the local school district.
Graham, daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, ran for political office for the first time in 2014, capturing the Republican-leaning congressional district seat. After redistricting, she stepped down from the position in 2016.
Her campaign did not take kindly to Levine’s remarks; former USF President and state legislator Betty Castor — a Graham supporter — fired back.
“Philip Levine can lecture women on what it means to have a job and ‘do something’ with your life after he raises three children while volunteering at their schools and working 50 hours a week,” Castor said in a statement Thursday from Graham’s campaign.
“Not only does Levine not have the facts straight, his view that motherhood is anything less than a full-time job is exactly the kind of tone-deaf attitude we already see out of too many politicians in DC and Tallahassee.”
“Real Floridians know you don’t have to be a CEO or sell a company to contribute to your community. Working mothers, PTA presidents, teachers and public school officials perform some of the most important jobs in our state.”
If Graham’s campaign thought that would chill out Levine Thursday, they were mistaken.
“I think Gwen … thought this crown was going to be passed to her because of her brand name and she somehow was going to inherit the governorship of Florida,” he said on WMNF 88.5- FM.
Levine didn’t stop there: “My background is one of an entrepreneur and not a politician. I’m someone who ran for mayor and became a mayor twice. And in my background, I’ve created a lot of jobs, and I think that’s very important to the American people. I’m sorry that Betty Castor wants to play politics with such an important issue, and I’m sorry that Gwen Graham feels so threatened.”
About a new poll published Thursday by the Florida Chamber Political Institute — which shows him trailing Graham by seven points — the mayor said the comment from Castor showed Graham was “not happy with the polling numbers.”
(An overwhelming majority of those surveyed did not have an opinion about the Governor’s race.)
The Miami Beach Democrat openly flirted with the idea of running for governor as a political independent at one point last year, calling himself a “radical centrist.” Add to that the fact he gave a political contribution to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio at one point might have some Democrats questioning his Party loyalty.
Levine is having none of it, saying that he’s given “well over” a million dollars to the Democratic Party over the years, and “raised billions.”
“A tiny $2,000, $3,000 donation to somebody on the other side I think is kind of irrelevant at this point,” he said.
Then, Levine attacked Graham for standing by idly during the 2016 presidential campaign while he was regularly making media and campaign appearances on behalf of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.
“She was thinking about herself during Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Levine charged. “She was thinking about how she wanted to become governor. She was nowhere to be found. You know where I was? I was on television every single channel including Fox, making sure doing everything I could as Hillary’s surrogate so the Democratic Party would win the presidency. So, I think when it comes to being a Democrat, it’s not just saying it; it’s actually doing it.”
Graham spokesman Matt Harringer disputed that allegation, saying, “Gwen Graham worked very hard for Hillary Clinton, speaking at local Democratic Executive Committees across the state.”
Orlando area businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum round out the Democratic field for governor. In the Florida Chamber poll, Gillum was a close third at 6 percent.
Later in the afternoon, Graham added to the crossfire.
“Having just finished my 49th Workday, working alongside personnel in the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, I just have so much respect for the working women and men of Florida — in both the private and public sectors,” she said. “Their work isn’t measured merely by the size of their wallets or the zeros in their bank accounts, but by the skills and dedication, they contribute to Florida every day.
“There’s no ‘inheritance’ in any campaign and there are no ‘titles’ that matter. The only thing that matters are the millions of hard-working Floridians and the pure inspiration found in the example they set.”
Later in the afternoon, Graham tweeted out photos of her most recent Workday with the Volusia Sheriffs, writing: “‘Real jobs,’ folks.” #Respect
— Gwen Graham (@GwenGraham) January 11, 2018