There probably are few candidates for any office in America as diametrically opposed as former congressman Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the candidates running for governor of Florida.
The stark difference between these two Florida governor aspirants, peppered with exhausting personal attacks, came across like an hour of machine gun fire Sunday night during the first debate between the two in Tampa. It was broadcast nationwide by CNN with network news anchor Jake Tapper moderating.
Many of us would have liked the candidates to explain their policies at greater length rather than repeating attack ads against each other. We've already heard those.
What you need to know from the debate:
DeSantis supports the policies of fiscal restraint that have made Florida the world's 17th largest economy. He believes in growing jobs and cutting taxes. He supports law enforcement, veterans and, as a top priority, clean water. He also supports President Trump's immigration policy -- in fact, he said his good relationship with the president can only benefit Floridians in getting the Trump Administration behind Florida's critical needs.
Gillum would increase the corporate tax rate significantly -- he says only for the wealthiest 3 percent of Florida corporations. He would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, sharply expand government-controlled health insurance and mandate a sharp increase in the starting salary for teachers because "Florida education is ranked 47th." He also favors impeaching the president.
DeSantis said Gillum's plan would destroy the Florida economy.
The environment: DeSantis "is an election-year environmentalist," Gillum said. "When you elect me governor, I’m going to put science first. I’m going to put the health and jobs of everyday Floridians over special interests." Gillum also talked about how he's going to deal with polluters. "We are going to hold them accountable because this is our air, our water, our beaches, our oceans and there is not a profit margin in this state big enough to take control of that."
DeSantis responded with this: "Despite what he wants you to believe, Andrew Gillum has a record of supporting projects that would wreak havoc on Florida’s environment. I stand firm in my commitment to Florida’s economy and my plan to protect our environment."
Climate change: DeSantis attacked Gillum for pursuing what he described as a "California-style energy policy," to which the Tallahassee mayor pointed to DeSantis' climate skepticism.
The ongoing FBI investigation in Tallahassee: The probe into potential corruption in the state capital includes lobbyists and Gillum's former campaign treasurer. "We all have friends that sometimes let us down," Gillum said.
But what about the Broadway tickets? Gillum unknowingly spent time with undercover agents in New York. DeSantis asked Gillum several times: "Did you pay for the 'Hamilton' tickets?" Gillum replied he and his family always pay their own way. But he never answered DeSantis' question with a yes or no.
On race: Gillum reminded DeSantis race indeed was an issue in the race and mentioned a controversial remark in which DeSantis said voters would "monkey this up" if they elected his African-American opponent. DeSantis denied the comment was about race, but Gillum alleged that the Republican's campaign has tried to undermine his with racist dog whistles.
On the NRA: Gillum made it clear he wants to take the national gun organization down and pointed out that in 2017 he fought the National Rifle Association and won. Last year, the Tallahassee mayor made headlines by defeating the National Rifle Association, which sued the city over an ordinance that outlawed firearm use in public parks. DeSantis supports the NRA and claims that's one of the reasons he has the support of 50 Florida sheriffs.
On health care: After Gillum pointed out that the GOP Obamacare repeal bills and some ongoing legal fights would allow states to drop coverage regulations for people who have pre-existing conditions, DeSantis pledged to close that gap if his own party's initiatives succeed. If elected and one of those bills or suits become law, he said, "I will sign a bill to take care of people with pre-existing condition."
Gillum, incidentally, was the only leading Democrat in his primary to endorse "Medicare-for-all," single-payer health care, a top progressive agenda item that the James Madison Institute claims could cause Florida to put a state income tax discussion back on the table. The policy's greatest champion is Vermont's independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed and campaigned for Gillum.
Republican candidate DeSantis summed up his agenda with this: "I'm prepared to lead Florida and protect our future. We can't destroy our economy with stiff taxes, we can't have open borders, we have to protect law enforcement, and we will solve toxic algae. It would be an honor to have your vote."
To explain his candidacy, Gillum said, "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. I’m here fighting for everyday Floridians so that this is a state that works for all of us again."
Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo issued this statement when the debate ended: “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. And on the most important issue of this election -- health care -- Mayor Gillum made clear that he is the only candidate with a plan to defend protections for pre-existing conditions and expand access to care.
“In contrast," Rizzo said, "DeSantis was unhinged, desperate, disrespectful and dishonest. Tonight, all DeSantis offered to the people of Florida were lies and falsehoods -- and his uneven performance made clear that he is more fit for a Fox News green room than the Governor’s Mansion. The truth is that DeSantis’ nasty smears, his slash-and-burn rhetoric, and his record on health care make him unfit to lead our state. ..."
Blaise Ingoglia, Republican Party of Florida chair, also issued a statement: “Tonight we saw a stark contrast between a selfless veteran who is ready to lead and a self-serving career politician who eluded as many questions on the debate stage as he has been eluding questions from the FBI. DeSantis validated why he is ready to lead the Sunshine State with less government, lower taxes, and policies aimed at protecting our environment and our communities, while Andrew Gillum spewed a destructive agenda in tune with left-wing ideologies that would prove to be detrimental to Florida. ..."
Florida Politics' Peter Schorsch repeated in a tweet Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz's reaction. Gaetz represents much of the panhandle and like DeSantis, has developed a close relationship with the president.
"After watching that debate, one thing is definite," said Gaetz. "Ron DeSantis is going to be Florida's next governor. Tonight voters were able to see the leader and friend I've had the pleasure of supporting. Ron DeSantis is a decorated war veteran who supports term limits and pay cuts for career politicians. Andrew Gillum, on the other hand, is just another career politician who took illegal gifts from lobbyists and has his taxpayer funded salary increased by 100 percent while in office. The vision Ron laid out tonight is one that will lift everyone in our state up and that's why I know he'll be successful on Election Day."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith