Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum play to bases during terse gubernatorial debate

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Florida’s gubernatorial candidates took the debate stage—and met one another—for the first time in a debate hosted by CNN in Tampa.

Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum traded barbs on President Donald Trump and the crime rate in Tallahassee, often delivering low blows amid high-minded policy points.

DeSantis stressed his record as an Iraq War veteran and a prosecutor, while Gillum spoke of his blue-collar upbringing. Old charges of racially-loaded language and inquiries about an ongoing FBI investigation made for an at-times-hostile conversation between the two men.

Personal Headaches

Moderator Jake Tapper raised specific issues that have plagued each candidate.

For DeSantis, that meant revisiting his infamous “monkey this up” comment and defending the fact he kept money from an individual who used a racial slur to describe former President Barack Obama.

DeSantis said he kept the money because the donor said he’d make a mistake. As for accusations he had demonstrated racism, he turned to his time in the armed forces.

“In the military, it didn’t matter your race, we all wore the same uniform,” he said. Similarly, he said as a prosecutor he helped victims of families regardless of race.

Gillum said DeSantis showed a willingness to use racially charged language early in the campaign.

“The truth is, I’ve been black all of my life,” Gillum said. “So far as I know, I will die black.”

Tapper pressed Gillum on an ongoing FBI investigation, one which the Democrat asserted has never been about him personally. Tapper specifically asked about his former friendship with Adam Corey.

“We all have friends that sometimes let us down,” Gillum said. “I am not under FBI investigation and neither is my city government.”

DeSantis, though, pushed on details, like tickets to “Hamilton,” allegedly purchased as part of a sting and about a trip Gillum took to Costa Rica.

“He’s dealing with an undercover agent posing as a contractor who he was on a junket with in New York City,” DeSantis said of his opponent. “We went to a Broadway show with an undercover agent.”

Policy Disputes

The debate touched on plenty of policy as well. DeSantis strongly touted his endorsement from The Everglades Trust, though Gillum noted one of its three board members since announced his dissent and his support for the Democrat.

DeSantis touted a recent vote in Congress to fund construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, a possible solution to blue-green algal blooms that follow discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

“I ran in the Republican primary stressing the need for clean water,” DeSantis said. “I stood up to the most entrenched interests in the state of Florida.”

But Gillum said he held the strongest environmental credentials of the race, with support from national environmental groups. He said DeSantis voted 33 times against clean water in Congress.

“I appreciate the fact he is an election year environmentalist,” Gillum said of DeSantis.

The two sparred heavily on health care. Gillum stressed the need for Florida to accept funding for the Medicaid expansion, which would help 800,000 additional Floridians get health care.

“I will hold down $6 billion from the federal government, that right now is being given away to other states because we philosophically disagree with getting folks access to health care,” Gillum said.

But DeSantis kept pushing on Gillum’s position as a move to single-payer health care, something he said would kill Medicare for seniors and take away insurance programs used by veterans.

DeSantis said such a plan “will make the V.A. waiting list look like the FastPass line at Disney World.”

Gillum said DeSantis had opposed protection for individuals with pre-existing conditions when he voted more than a dozen times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. DeSantis said he’s sign a bill as governor to make sure those with such conditions have access to insurance.

On guns, DeSantis said he did not support the Parkland bill because changes to age restrictions on guns would lose in court. Gillum said the position stemmed from DeSantis’ unwillingness to challenge the NRA.

Federal Relationships

The subject of DeSantis’ kinship with President Trump and Gillum’s antagonistic relationship drove a large chunk of discussion.

“Donald Trump is weak and he performs as all weal people do; they become bullies,” Gillum said. “Mr. DeSantis is his acolyte. He’s trying out to be the trump apprentice.”

But DeSantis said his relationship with Trump and his administration will be valuable as governor. He cited the president’s support for a reservoir and willingness to exclude Florida shores from offshore drilling expansion as examples.

DeSantis said Gillum won’t have Trump’s ear because the Democrat has called for his impeachment.

“I don’t want to be involved in the Washington food fight any more. I’ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt,” DeSantis said. “I’m in position to a advance Florida’s priorities.”

Gillum, though, said personal friction between himself won’t prevent him from working as governor in tandem with the White House when appropriate.

“You can look at how [Republican Gov.] Rick Scott and I worked with each other in there aftermath of this hurricane,” Gillum said. “Now he and I don’t agree on much on public policy, but when it comes to dealing with natural disasters we put the mess to the side and we get the job done.”

That’s not so easy in D.C., DeSantis said.

“That’s not the way it works. The president has got too many irons in the fire,” DeSantis said.

“Not with this president,” said Gillum.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


  • Dan Lanske

    October 21, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    Ron Desantis had a weak start, but finished strong. Overall I’d say Desantis won the debate, and won my vote.

  • Arthro

    October 21, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Gillum has too much garbage in his history. Besides, Florida Sherriffs overwhelmingly support Desantis because they know he’ll be tough on crime. Gillum won’t be. Also, the US and Florida economy are doing well under Republicans. Why screw that up?

    I’ll be voting for Desantis.

    • Ray Tampa

      October 22, 2018 at 4:21 am

      Arthro, just for the sake of argument, I am willing to bet you are a strong supporter of Gov. Rick Scott, since he has overwhelming support from law enforcement and Florida’s economy is doing so well, as you said. However, Mr. Hypocrite, Scott has more ‘garbage’ in his background and present ground than any political candidate in the history of this country except, maybe, Trump. Yet, you are willing to give them a pass.

      I believe the fact that Gillum is black factors heavily in your reasoning. Garbage in his background my azz.

    • Valerie Sprieser

      October 22, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      The economy is Not doing well in south Florida! Tourism is down. Europeans and Canadians are not visiting because of Trumps policies . Many streets have many empty store fronts! The majority of people have not seen a pay raise in years and our insurance costs are rising faster than the cost of living! No Florida needs new leadership! The old guard needs to be replaced! No Florida is not doing well under the current state leadership !

  • Nassau Rebel

    October 22, 2018 at 1:31 am

    When I vote, I listen to candidates while also analyzing what I believe their views, if I give them my vote, will mean for my family if the candidate gets elected.

    With that said, its a no-brainer;

    Andrew Gillum has my vote.

    DeSantis just thinks he somehow deserves to be governor without having to work for it.

    But I support a healthcare system that works, and a living wage for our hard working neighbors.

  • Ray Tampa

    October 22, 2018 at 3:57 am

    I knew Gillum would outperform his overrated, highly educated Trump azz kissing opponent. Too often DeSantis failed to answer questions put to him by the moderator. He was too busy trying to get a negative dig in on Gillum.

    I still want to know DeSantis’ health care plan. I also want to know his transportation plan.

    Gillum was cool and calm throughout.

    Score: Gillum 1 DeSantis 0

  • Seber Newsome III

    October 23, 2018 at 9:02 am

    DeSantis is much more intelligent that ghetto Gillum. Gillum is under investigation by the FBI for taking money for special interest. He is funded by George Soros, he has admitted so. And, you do know Soros is a socialist. Gillum will bankrupt the state with his free giveaways. Someone will have to pay for his free healthcare, me , with my taxes increased and a state income tax to boot. Dont let Gillum monkey with Florida.

Comments are closed.


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