- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Florida gubernatorial race is getting nasty.

Former GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis, facing a hostile crowd and an energized opponent, shouted at times Wednesday night as he and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum held their second debate in Broward County.

The race has been roiled recently by racist robocalls that the Gillum campaign has pinned to a white supremacist group in Idaho. The group is not connected to the DeSantis campaign and Mr. Gillum acknowledged Wednesday night he does not believe Mr. DeSantis is racist.

Nevertheless, the Gillum campaign has seized on the robocalls and the DeSantis’ campaign’s failure to denounce them thus far, along with various threads in Mr. DeSantis’ past, to paint the entire DeSantis campaign as some kind of sinister operation.

Cheered on by the studio crowd despite a moderator’s hapless calls for neutrality, Mr. Gillum pressed his advantage to the point where Mr. DeSantis raised his voice when asked about some of his past associations.

“How the hell am I supposed to know every statement that somebody makes?” he said. That comment was in reference to right-wing writer David Horowitz, whose group Mr. DeSantis has addressed in the past. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I’m not going to let the media smear me.”

Within a half-hour of the debate’s end, the Gillum campaign bombarded its list with emails about “DeSantis lies,” and “Fact Checks.” In particular, Mr. Gillum tried to rebut claims Tallahassee has seen a spike in violent crime under his watch.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime statistics show that between 2015 and 2017, violent crime in Tallahassee decreased from 2,019 incidents to 1,582. Murders dropped from 16 to 12, while rapes fell from 235 to 115.

Mr. DeSantis also hit hard at Mr. Gillum’s generally left-wing platform that includes a call for “Medicare for all” and a 40 percent increase in the corporate tax rate. From the outset, Mr. DeSantis has charged that Mr. Gillum’s old-school Democratic talk about “investments” in education and million in new taxes will short circuit the Florida economy.

While Mr. Gillum backs socialist Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders’ proposed “Medicare for all” legislation that would in fact forbid competition in health insurance and make the government the “single payer” of all health care, he also talks about expanding Medicaid for some 800,000 Floridians under the terms of Obamacare.

Obamacare is a failure, according to Mr. DeSantis, who voted to repeal and replace it while in Congress. He did say Wednesday night that, as governor, he would sign a law to protect people with pre-existing conditions in the insurance market.

Throughout the evening, as it has on the campaign trail, the question of outside influences hung over the proceedings. Mr. Gillum maintained his attacks against some of Mr. DeSantis’ past associations, while Mr. DeSantis pressed his case that out of state left-wing billionaires are flooding the Gillum campaign with cash.

From the very beginning it was clear things are far from chummy among the candidates. When the moderator opened asking about the sometimes vitriolic nature of American politics today, Mr. DeSantis noted, “I condemn what happened today,” in apparent reference to the bomb plot, then launched into a pointed critique of Mr. Gillum’s political philosophy.

In response, Mr. Gillum began with a broad lamentation about the state of politics then quickly pivoted to an indictment of President Trump and Mr. DeSantis.

From there, Mr. DeSantis again linked Mr. Gillum to an ongoing corruption investigation in Tallahassee by the FBI. While Mr. Gillum has not been named in any of the federal subpoenas issued in the probe, he did have a close relationship with some of the apparent targets and was on trips to New York City and Costa Rica with them and undercover agents.

The New York trip, in particular, has been in the campaign recently as Mr. Gillum insisted some documents he has disclosed show he paid his own way for a baseball game and tickets to the hit musical, “Hamilton,” while other documents that surfaced in connection with a state ethics investigation made it look like Mr. Gillum did not pay.

Mr. Gillum has insisted he is not a target of the FBI investigation. The bureau’s Jacksonville office refuses to comment on the matter or even acknowledge there is an investigation.

“In the state of Florida we have many issues, and tickets to ‘Hamilton’ ain’t one of them,” Mr. Gillum said trying to move the debate off an uncomfortable topic.

When the debate turned to immigration, Mr. DeSantis argued Mr. Gillum’s hatred of President Trump leads him to take positions like the abolition of ICE that could endanger communities. Mr. Gillum said he believes ICE’s duties could be performed effectively if the office was absorbed into the Justice Department.

Mr. DeSantis ran with the enthusiastic endorsement of Mr. Trump, while Mr. Gillum has been heralded by Mr. Sanders.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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