The two men who were considered long-shots to be their parties’ nominees for governor at the beginning of the year, took the stage in Tampa Sunday night in their first debate of Florida’s gubernatorial race and their first meeting ever. It didn’t take long for whatever collegiality that may have existed between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum to leave the stage.
“Look, Andrew is a failed mayor,” DeSantis said in his opening statement. “He’s presided over a crime-ridden city. He’s involved in corruption. He’s not the guy to lead our state.”
“Well, that’s a mouthful,” Gillum responded keeping to his prepared opening statement. “I’m here, this evening, standing for anybody who’s been told they don’t belong. That they didn’t come from the right background, the right pedigree.”
For the next 20 minutes the two men touched on common themes and charges made during their campaigns. DeSantis was critical of Gillum’s proposed $15 an hour minimum wage for Florida.
DeSantis insisted Gillum’s proposal to increase the state’s corporate income tax by $1 billion to help increase education funding for public schools would jeopardize the gains made by Florida’s economy under the administration of Gov. Rick Scott. DeSantis said Gillum would have to raise other taxes to pay for all of the spending he has proposed. He accused Gillum of supporting property tax increases for Tallahassee residents as mayor of Florida’s capital city.
“If you believe, with that record, that he ain’t going to raise your taxes,” DeSantis said. “Then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.”
Gillum defended his proposed corporate tax increase would apply to just three percent of Florida’s corporations and insisting he would never support a state income tax.
Gillum hit back at DeSantis’ accusing him of failing to defend Florida’s environment and preventing algae blooms during his six year in Congress. Gillum was also critical of his opponent for his opposition to Obamacare.
“Mr. DeSantis, while in Congress, voted to discriminate and allow insurance companies to discriminate against people based on pre-existing conditions,” Gillum charged.
After about 21 minutes, the debate shifted back to Gillum’s record as mayor and that city’s high crime rate and the FBI’s investigation into possible public corruption in city hall.
“Let me be very clear what the record is,” Gillum said. “I am not under FBi investigation and neither is my city government. And what we have done is welcome them in. If there is someone who has done something wrong they ought to be held fully accountable for their actions.”
Gillum also accused DeSantis of being in the back pocket of the National Rifle Association, while DeSantis charged Gillum of being soft on illegal immigration.
Both sides claimed victory in Sunday night’s debate.
“Ron DeSantis won tonight’s debate by sharing a positive message with voters,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. ‘Floridians were able to see the visions for two very different futures for our state. The future with Governor Ron DeSantis is one that brings more jobs, better education and more safety for our communities. With Gillum, we would be faced with higher taxes, an ever-expanding government and more crime. DeSantis deserves the support of every voter because he will fight for every Floridian.”
“Florida voters saw a clear contrast on the debate stage this evening. Andrew Gillum was optimistic, hopeful, substantive — and downright gubernatorial. Mayor Gillum made clear that he will fight every day for better health care, better schools, and better jobs,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. “In contrast, DeSantis was unhinged, desperate, disrespectful and dishonest.”
Just hours before the start of the debate,CNN drew criticism from the DeSantis campaign for releasing a poll showing Gillum with a double-digit lead over his opponent.
The poll shows Gillum leading leading DeSantis by 12-points, 54 percent to 42 percent. The same poll also showed incumbent Bill Nelson with a 5-point lead over Gov. Rick Scott, 50 percent to 45 percent, in the race for the U.S. Senate. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percent. It was conducted from Oct. 16-20.
The poll was conducted by SSRS, a pollster that is considered to be an “outlier” among companies that conduct surveys
The DeSantis campaign sent out a release Sunday afternoon that called the poll “questionable and misleading” and questioned its methodology. The campaign said the poll was “conducted by a left-leaning democratic pollster who polled an electorate never seen in Florida.”
“Simply put, this CNN survey is not worth the paper it is written on because the sample and weights do not reflect a Florida election. It also makes no sense to use this sampling when you can buy Florida’s voter file and voting history files for $10 and weight to those voter-level characteristics,” said DeSantis campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson. “That CNN takes this poll seriously enough to blast it out to their viewers right before a debate on their network is why so many Americans believe that CNN peddles fake news.”