JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Less than three weeks before the November election, the focus in the gubernatorial race is on winning votes in Northeast Florida. The two major party candidates running for Florida governor each spoke Thursday evening at events in Jacksonville.
Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum stopped in Jacksonville on his first day back on the campaign trail since Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Panhandle. He suspended his campaign to focus on the recovery effort in Tallahassee, where he is mayor. Gillum also missed the first of three scheduled debates against his opponent, Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis, who resigned from Congress weeks after the primary, also put his campaign on hold in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, turning several planned events into hurricane relief drives.
Gillum spoke Thursday night at the NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund dinner at the downtown Hyatt Regency. Less than a mile away, DeSantis spoke at Duval County's Lincoln/Douglass "Victory through Unity" banquet at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
DeSantis said he would continue Gov. Rick Scott's economic policies of cutting regulations and lowering taxes to produce jobs. He said his opponent wants to raise taxes.
"He puts the burden on the taxpayers for more taxes," DeSantis said. "He never looks to reform government."
He's also pushing for school choice policies.
In front of a packed convention room, Gillum laid out his vision for Florida, which includes expanding Medicaid to more than 800,000 Floridians whom he says cannot afford health care.
“By expanding Medicaid, we’re going to be able to pull down $6 billion from the federal government that right now is being given away to other states because Florida doesn’t, philosophically, doesn’t agree with health care.”
Gillum went on to say affordable health care is the No. 1 bipartisan issue in Florida. He also talked about higher pay for teachers and criminal justice reform.
News4Jax asked Gillum about Amendment 4. If passed, it would restore voting rights to former felons if they have served their time, with the exception of those who have committed crimes such as murder or sex offenses. His opponent is against the proposed constitutional amendment.
“I think, unfortunately, my opponent is a throwback to the days when people like him took comfort in mass incarceration and keeping people from accessing their legal right to vote," Gillum said. "Everyday, people in this state believe in second chances. People of this state believe in grace. They believe you shouldn’t be measured forever by your worst day."
The first poll of likely voters since Hurricane Michael, conducted by St. Pete Polls, shows the candidates in a dead heat. The survey shows 47.0 percent said they would vote for Gillum to 45.9 percent who would vote for DeSantis. The results are still within the poll's 2.2 percent margin of error.
St. Pete Polls latest results
"We’re fully confident we’re going to pull out a win here and it won’t be because the polls told us so. We’re going everywhere. We’re going to red counties, blue counties and purple counties," Gillum said.
DeSantis told the crowd inside the arena that they have a clear choice.
"My opponent is a career politician. He got elected to Tallahassee right out of college and has never worked in anything else but politics his entire career," DeSantis said.
Record amounts of money are flowing into both campaigns. DeSantis' campaign just reported its best fundraising week so far, raising $8.2 million.
Both campaigns have received a big boost from taxpayers. The state matches individual contributions of up to $250. In just the past week, the state has matched more than half a million dollars.
Gillum received a check Wednesday for $360,746. DeSantis’ check was worth $179,084.
The candidates will face off in their first debate Sunday night in Tampa.