Hours after a new CNN poll found him trailing by double digits in their race to become the next governor of Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis leapt out of the gates to attack Democrat Andrew Gillum in his opening remarks at their first debate.
DeSantis, a former GOP congressman who resigned to focus on this contest, began the CNN debate by calling Gillum a “failed mayor” and alleging that he was “involved in corruption” before the Democrat had a turn to speak.
“Well, that was a mouthful,” Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, deadpanned in response.
Few campaigns in 2018 have run so directly parallel to the broader national political fight – and this, like so much else in the era, had the feel of a brawl. DeSantis spent more time on the offensive, perhaps feeling he needed to change the trajectory of a campaign that’s found him consistently on the back foot, while Gillum sought to downplay accusations of impropriety, while talking up his health care plan and casting himself as the more competent choice to lead the state.
The rapid-fire, one-hour debate kicked off with a sharp exchange – initiated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who moderated from Tampa – over climate change and its outsized effects on a state that was slammed only a couple weeks ago by yet another devastating hurricane and is currently at war with a harmful algae bloom.
DeSantis denied claims he denies the science behind the issue, saying, “I don’t want to be an alarmist. I want to look at this and do what makes sense for Florida,” and touted his recent endorsement by the Everglades Trust.
Gillum, who has the backing of the Sierra Club, called the Republican “an election year environmentalist.”
“What Florida voters need to know is that when they elect me governor, they are going to have a governor who believes in science,” he said, “which we haven’t had for quite some time in this state.”
DeSantis was also forced to confront concerns that he has tried to use Gillum’s race against him. The most high profile incident came in the first 24 hours after the primary, when DeSantis went on Fox News and warned Floridians not to “monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda” and voting for Gillum, who stands to be the state’s first African American governor.
The Republican vigorously denied that his comment was about race, saying, “Floridians can know that I’ll be a governor for all Floridians.”
Gillum responded, “He has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is, I’ve been black all of my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”
Though his upset victory in the primary was driven by an endorsement from President Donald Trump, DeSa