The five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor met in their fifth and final debate of the campaign Thursday evening in a West Palm Beach television studio. They touched on familiar themes from the race: education spending and school safety, the state’s Stand Your Ground law, the algae blooms coming off Lake Okeechobee and ending the 20-plus years of Republican control in Tallahassee.
“This is enormous for the Democratic Party,” said former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. “If we don’t win this election in Florida, we will not win the presidency in 2020.”
“Florida, this is not a drill,” said former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. “If you are ready to end 20 years of one party rule, I am ready to lead.”
The candidates were asked how the Democratic Party fell out of touch with voters and how they can win them back.
“We haven’t lost touch…not at all,” said Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene. “I think the Democratic Party is alive and well and kicking. The problem is we’ve been outspent by Republicans over and over again. People say Florida is a purple state or a swing state. It’s neither. It’s a blue state that unfortunately been outspent.”
Greene, a multi-billionaire who is self-funding his campaign, reiterated his pledge to spend what it takes to win the governor’s seat, while helping to fund Democratic candidates up and down the ticket — saying he was willing to spend $200 million or more of his own money.
The candidates also addressed school safety and took aim at the National Rifle Association.
Orlando-area businessman Chris King said he was proud to introduce a “bullet tax” to raise money to help combat gun violence.
“We know for the past two decades, the NRA has flooded our communities with ammunition and firearms,” King said. “It’s time they take responsibility and paying for the cost of protecting our families.”
All five candidates vowed to repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law that was backed by the NRA.
“I know a little about the subject matter in an intimate way as a black man, but also as a father to two black boys,” said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. “I would tell you that Stand Your Ground has no place in civilized society and needs to be repealed.”
The five Democrats all blamed Gov. Rick Scott for the algae blooms coming off of Lake Okeechobee and accused Republicans of siphoning off a $1 billion from public schools to give to private charter schools.
They supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and were critical of the jobs created during the Scott administration saying most of them are low-wage jobs that require Floridians to work more than one job.
The debate comes less than four weeks before the Aug. 28 primary elections, which the polls indicate is wide open race on the Democratic side, although recent polls have shown Graham taking over the front-runner position.
Two polls released last week showed Graham leading in both surveys. One survey by Mason-Dixon Polling shows Graham getting the support of 27 percent of Democratic voters, followed by Levine at 18 percent. They were followed by Palm Beach businessman Greene at 12 percent, Gillum at 10 percent, and King at 7 percent
In a poll released by Florida Atlantic University shows Graham holding a slim 4-point advantage. Graham received the support of 20 percent of those polled, followed by Levine at 16 percent and Greene at 14 percent. King came in fourth at 9 percent followed by Gillum at 7 percent.