Led by blistering attacks from Gov. Rick Scott, Republican candidates kicked off their unity rally in Orlando Thursday morning declaring that this year’s election offers stark choices that boil down to capitalism versus socialism.
Scott, the nominee for U.S. Senate; gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis; the rest of Florida’s cabinet; and the rest of the Republican Party’s nominees for the cabinet took turns Friday attacking Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and other Democrats as radical, bent on destroying Florida’s economy and the state.
“When I was in the private sector I recalled many times that it seemed like the two political parties didn’t have very different choices. That’s not the case here in Florida today,” Scott said. “This election offers voters the starkest choice possible for the direction and the future of our state and the country. The Democratic ticket of Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum offering a very clear, a very liberal, a very radical and a very risky direction.”
“I am the capitalist candidate for Governor for the state of Florida,” DeSantis later declared.
The event oozed unity after primary battles that left some Republicans broken and broken-hearted. On Thursday, Attorney General nominee Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner nominee Matt Caldwell, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Attorney General Pam Bondi all called for Republican voters to support GOP candidates.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and DeSantis shared a warm handshake and a call to “rally behind our values as Republicans.”
There were, however, a couple of key Republican leaders conspicuous by their absences. The first was Republican Party of Florida Chair Blaise Ingoglia, who continued his refusal to share a dais with Scott.
The other was President Donald Trump, who, in an hour of speeches, was mentioned only once, only in passing, and not by DeSantis, his pick in Florida, nor by Scott, who seeks to join him in Washington and had previously boasted of having a close relationship with him.
Scott and others planned to join Vice President Mike Pence at private events later on Thursday, but Pence was not scheduled to join the Florida Republican unity rally.
The theme was to build on the records of Scott, Bondi, Putnam, and Caldwell, pushing for lower taxes, deregulation, and tougher law enforcement, which was largely defined as enforcement of immigration laws. Much was made of Florida’s economy, job growth, lower taxes, and lower unemployment. Scott also defended his records on education and the environment, which have been sharply targeted by Democrats.
“I think the appropriate course of action is to see what has worked here, build off of that, and enjoy even more success,” DeSantis said. “My opponent, Andrew Gillum, would really want to stop that and reverse all the progress we’ve made.
“If you want to bring more investment to Florida, you probably don’t want to campaign on the biggest tax increase in Florida’s history,” DeSantis said.
From there, DeSantis and Scott charged Gillum with socialist ideas, particularly involving health care, and warnings that would strip private health care plans away from Floridians, bankrupt the state, and send Florida tax money to states like California and New York.
DeSantis also accused Gillum of “radicalism” in calling for the abolishment and replacement of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and in his statements regarding Israel. DeSantis called him anti-Israel for opposing the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, something DeSantis helped champion in Congress.
“I think he believes Jerusalem should be divided,” DeSantis charged. “He criticizes Israel, he said they were committing murder when they were defending themselves against Hamas terrorists who were overrunning the border on the Gaza Strip. That is not representative of Florida values. I’ve always stood by Israel. I will be the most pro-Israel governor in the country.”
Scott, too, attacked Gillum and explicitly charged him with preaching socialism. His attacks on his own opponent, Nelson, was more often by association with Gillum and the Democrats, though he did take a very personal shot at the incumbent U.S. Senator.
“If you grew up wealthy like Bill Nelson, it’s all theory, it’s just about numbers,” Scott said of people struggling to make ends meet. “I grew up poor.”