Florida Race Heating Up

FILE - Gillum, DeSantis

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, left, and Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis will face off in the Florida governor’s race after the two men won their respective primaries Aug. 28.

There were moments Sunday night when it appeared there was a debate on CNN between two candidates running to be the next governor of Florida.

Then it devolved into a discussion about who likes President Donald Trump and who doesn’t like President Donald Trump.

Hint: Progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum does not like President Trump and conservative Republican Ron DeSantis does like President Trump.

How that qualifies either to be the Governor of Florida remains uncertain except to CNN’s Jake Tapper, who moderated Sunday’s debate and actually asked if the candidates if think Trump is a good role model for the children of Florida.

DeSantis said yes and thought Trump’s effort to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem showed he was a good model for the children.

Gillum said he was “confused by the question” and, after it being repeated, said Trump is not a good role model by any definitition for anyone, most certainly not the children of Florida.

“Donald Trump is weak. And he performs as all weak people do: they become bullies and Mr. DeSantis is his acolyte,” Gillum said, before launching into Democrats chief complaint about DeSantis. “He’s trying out to be the Trump apprentice at every turn. He’s tweeting at him and he’s talking to him. He’s showing up. He’s complimenting him.”

The Trump question was a bizarre twist in an otherwise composed exchange before a national audience, the first of three debates with DeSantis appearing to need the boost that face-to-face debates can bring.

With two weeks of campaigning left, Gillum holds a 12-point edge over DeSantis in the race for governor, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS released before the debate Sunday.

The poll in Florida was conducted Oct. 16-20 among a random statewide sample of 1,012 voters reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer.

CNN’s poll has Gillum leading DeSantis 54 percent to 42 percent, with a 60-34 percent advantage among women; 74-23 percent lead among non-white voters; 60-33 percent among younger voters and 51-42 percent with political independents.

With Trump a polarizing – and tweeting – presence in the race, the CNN poll found 51 percent of the state’s likely voters disapprove of the president and of them, 92 percent back Gillum.

Among the 43 percent of likely state voters who approve of Trump, 87 percent back DeSantis.

In Florida’s U.S. Senate contest between three-time incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson and term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the CNN poll has Nelson ahead, 50 to 45 percent.

In both races, 11 percent of likely voters say there’s a chance they could change their minds before Election Day.

During Sunday’s debate, DeSantis said he favors sensible environmental regulation and sidestepped answering directly whether he “believes” in climate change, claiming, “I don’t want to be an alarmist. I want to look at this and do what makes sense for Florida.”

His plan would be better than the “California-style energy policy” Gillum would impose, he said.

Gillum mocked DeSantis’s “climate skepticism,” and vowed when elected, “The people of Florida are going to have a governor who believes in science.”

DeSantis noted he has been back by the Everglades Trust, a three-person board, which endorsed him for his refusal to accept campaign money from Big Sugar despite backing Democrats in other state races by a ratio of nearly three-to-one over Republicans.

Gillum, who has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, called DeSantis ”an election year environmentalist.”

Gillum said the GOP’s Obamacare repeal bills and legal challenges would allow states to drop coverage regulations for people who have pre-existing conditions, pointing out that DeSantis doesn’t have a health care policy other than opposing Obamacare.

DeSantis said as governor, he would not allow the state to drop coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“I will sign a bill to take care of people with pre-existing conditions,” he pledged.

He’d protect those with pre-existing conditions, but DeSantis said Gillum’s support for Medicare-for-all would be a disaster for taxpayers, Medicaid and people who need access to affordable health care.

Gillum was asked about the FBI investigation into potential corruption in Tallahassee involving lobbyists, a former campaign treasurer and trips to New York and Costa Rica.

Gillum reiterated that he is not a target of the probe, that he’s not personally under investigation.

“If there is something who has done something wrong, they ought to be held fully accountable for their actions. We’ve made every record available on a publicly searchable website,” he said.

DeSantis said the probe shows Gillum as mayor using “the office to benefit himself,” and referred to his attending a Broadway show with undercover FBI agents.

”Did you pay for the Hamilton tickets?” DeSantis asked.

Gillum said he always pays his own way, repeating, “I am not under FBI investigation and neither is our city government.”

DeSantis introduced himself at the start of the debate as “an Iraq veteran. I’m a former prosecutor, and I’m on a mission to protect Florida’s future for a generation,” claiming to be a more moderate choice than the “too liberal” Gillum.

“We need to protect the economic momentum that we’ve enjoyed, but you can’t do that if you do what Andrew wants to do, which is to raise taxes 40 percent and introduce a lot of new taxes. That will stop our economy,” he said.

Gillum in his opening statement said he only wants to do what is right by most Floridians, not just the wealthy,

“I’m here this evening standing for anybody who has ever been told that they don’t belong, that they didn’t come from the right background or the right pedigree,” he said. “I’m here fighting for everyday Floridians so that this is a state that works for all of us again.”

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