By Katie Garwood | firstname.lastname@example.org
Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum picked up where they left off Wednesday in their second and final debate of the Florida gubernatorial campaign, in an hour full of heated exchanges which began with a handshake and ended with a fist bump.
The debate opened without opening statements, and went straight into asking about the explosive devices sent to former President Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz among others, asking if divisive political rhetoric has gone too far.
DeSantis said we need “to get the facts before we jump to conclusions” adding it’s important we try to “unify” before delving into brief explanations of his economic, environmental and educational platforms.
Gillum said political rhetoric was “absolutely” becoming too divisive, citing examples of it being used against him since the start of the campaign. Gillum said DeSantis is running the race “very close to Trump’s political handbook.”
“We’ve really seen a collapsing of our political discourse,” he said, adding DeSantis gave into that political rhetoric by telling voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum shortly after securing the Republican nomination.
A substantial part of the debate was spent on Gillum’s “Hamilton” tickets and whether or not they were paid for by an undercover FBI agent. DeSantis called on Gillum to “accept responsibility” for what he’s done.
Gillum responded, saying he knew Adam Corey and Mike Miller arranged for him to see the show and he takes responsibility for not asking more questions about the tickets, but there are more important matters to consider.
“I’m running for governor, we’ve got a lot of issues,” Gillum said. “We have 99 issues and Hamilton ain’t one of them.”
In Sunday’s debate, DeSantis asked Gillum who paid for the tickets, and reinforced that he believed Gillum to be lying.
“Think about what he wants you to believe,” DeSantis said. “He wants you to believe he’s not under investigation. Why would an undercover FBI agent posing as a contractor give him a $1,000 ticket to ‘Hamilton’? He was asked the question by me, ‘Did you pay for it?’ He was indignant. ‘I’m a grown man, I pay for my stuff.’ He lied the other day.”
Later on in the debate, the issue was brought up again, with Gillum raising the question of why DeSantis was yet to release his receipts for $145,000 of public taxpayer money, and calling on him to do so.
The two went on to hurl attacks at the other – Gillum saying DeSantis lied, and DeSantis saying the same about Gillum.
“When you’re running for governor, the first thing you should have to do is level honestly with the people,” Gillum said of DeSantis’ false television spots. “… You’re disqualified in my opinion for the office of governor.”
“Andrew is the one who lied to the people of Florida on Sunday night about accepting a gift from an undercover FBI agent,” DeSantis said. “He’s the one who lied.”
“Unfortunately, the theatrics are on full display tonight,” Gillum said.
The debate came to a boil as the moderator asked DeSantis about his four appearances with David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, a conservative foundation. DeSantis was quoted in 2015 saying “David has done great work and I’ve been an admirer … I’ve been admirer of an organization that shoots straight and tells the American people in standing up for the right thing.”
Prior to making that statement in 2015, Horowitz had been quoted making racist remarks. Before the moderator could ask the question, DeSantis responded with a biting tone.
“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement someone makes,” DeSantis said. “Here’s the deal, let me just say this straight up. When I was downrange in Iraq, we worked together as a team regardless of race … I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I am not going to let the media smear me like they do with so many other people.”
“A hit dog will holler, and it hollered throughout this room,” Gillum said. “First of all he has neo-nazis helping him in this state. He accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who said the former president of the United States was a Muslim n – – – – r. I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
Transitioning away from the subject, the debate then turned to focus on policies such as health care, the environment, education, immigration and public safety.
On immigration, the two seemingly could have found a sliver of common ground. Gillum said “we are a nation and state of borders” and it’s crucial to ensure that “rapists and murderers don’t come into the United States.”
But DeSantis’ response quickly pivoted, saying Gillum would allow his disagreements with Trump to get in the way of dealing with ICE and immigration issues.
“Why would you allow your dislike for the president to knowingly put communities at risk,” DeSantis said. “To have mothers who may have their sons or daughters harmed by somebody? That is just wrong, we have to protect Floridians first.”
The debate closed with a discussion on gun control, especially prescient given Marjory Stoneman Douglas is just miles from Broward College where the debate was held.
DeSantis said he would vote against a bill that would raise the age to buy a gun to 21 and require background checks to purchase firearms. Gillum said he would propose a stronger bill that wouldn’t be a threat to the second amendment.
“If you want to own the power of god at your waist belt, you ought to have a background check,” he said. “When our parents drop our kids off at school, we should have an expectation that we will be able to pick them up alive.”