BOCA RATON, Fla. – On the heels of a vicious debate, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Thursday decried the nasty nature of the nationally watched Florida race but at the same time likened his Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, to a temperamental child.
Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, kicked off a bus tour in Miami, visited three college campuses and appeared at a temple in Plantation, with early voting underway and the clock winding down on the Nov. 6 election.
Speaking to a crowd of several hundred students and supporters Thursday afternoon at an auditorium on the Florida Atlantic University campus, Gillum mocked DeSantis’ performance during Wednesday’s second debate, during which the Republican exploded during questioning from moderator Todd McDermott.
DeSantis, whose endorsement by President Donald Trump helped the former congressman coast to victory in the August GOP primary, lost his cool when McDermott asked him about his relationship with conservative author David Horowitz.
DeSantis “came a little undone yesterday,” Gillum began, after asking the crowd if they had tuned into the debate, which was the final face-to-face matchup between the candidates.
“He fell into the category of demonstrating the temperament of about a 4-year-old. I’m trying not to offend my kids, because I’ve got twin 4-year-olds. I certainly don’t want them to take their example from him,” Gillum said.
DeSantis “collapsed under the pressure” of being asked about “racist conferences that he’s attended” and about his facilitation of a Facebook group accused of being anti-Semitic and “tinged with racism,” Gillum said.
During Wednesday’s debate, McDermott sparked an outburst from DeSantis after probing his relationship with Horowitz, who has made controversial comments about racial issues. McDermott pointed out that the former congressman had praised Horowitz as someone who “shoots straight” and “tells the American people the truth.”
“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement everybody makes?” a furious DeSantis interrupted, saying that as a soldier in Iraq “we worked together as a team regardless of race.”
DeSantis said, as a prosecutor, he “stood up for victims of every race, color and creed” and will “represent all the people” as governor.
“Everyone will get a fair shake. But I’m not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I’m not going to let the media smear me,” he angrily continued.
Gillum, who is black, and his supporters have made racism a major theme of the Democrat’s campaign. The day after the Aug. 28 primary, DeSantis drew widespread criticism after warning supporters “not to monkey this up,” referring to the state’s success under Gov. Rick Scott, by electing Gillum. DeSantis has also been blasted for refusing to return a campaign contribution to a donor who used the “n-word” in reference to former President Barack Obama.
“Now I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist,” Gillum said Wednesday night during the debate at Broward College in Davie. “I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
During his 30-minute stump speech Thursday, Gillum reminded the audience about his opponent’s “monkey this up” comment, adding that there’s been “a lot more of the same” throughout the race.
“While he is focusing people’s attention on the color of my skin, which I have no plans of changing,” Gillum said, to cheers and laughter, “I said the only color the people of this state are concerned about is the blue-green algae (fouling waterways) … and our need to elect a governor who actually believes in science, who actually believes that global warming and climate change is a real thing.”
DeSantis and his supporters, meanwhile, have accused Gillum of being dishonest and corrupt for accepting a ticket from an undercover FBI agent to the popular Broadway show, “Hamilton,” and traveling to Costa Rica and other places with lobbyist Adam Corey. Gillum said he paid cash for his share of a rental house shared with Corey and others in the 2016 Costa Rica vacation.
The trips and the ticket are part of an ethics investigation into Gillum, and Corey is at the heart of a federal probe into Tallahassee city government. Gillum has repeatedly denied he is the subject of the FBI inquiry and has steadfastly maintained he hasn’t done anything wrong.
When asked about the “Hamilton” ticket during Wednesday’s debate, Gillum said he should have asked more questions “to ensure that everything was above board.”
But when asked by a reporter Thursday whether he regretted taking the Costa Rica trip with Corey, a former close friend with whom the mayor has publicly severed ties, Gillum said no.
“Adam’s somebody I’ve known for 20 years. We vacationed together plenty of times. He was at my wedding, have been extremely close acquaintances and friends for over 20 years. The same is true for the folks who we traveled with. No. I don’t have regrets about that,” Gillum said.
Corey maintains that Gillum hasn’t reimbursed him for nearly $1,000 in expenses related to the Costa Rica trip.
“Unfortunately, I think Adam’s a little offended because I’ve had to sever ties. Again, I regret, unfortunately, that that has had to happen, but I do still wish him well,” Gillum said when asked about the costs of the trip.
Gillum also said political leaders “have to become extremely highly responsible with our rhetoric and what we say,” following the delivery of numerous pipe bombs to Democratic leaders across the nation over the past few days.
“This rhetoric is becoming extremely heated. It is dangerous, not only for elected officials and their family. It is dangerous for society. So my hope would be, in these closing weeks --- across the country, not just here in Florida --- but in these closing weeks, that we all exert a little bit of restraint and greater responsibility to ensure that we’re not putting each other in harm’s way,” he said.
The mayor also encouraged students to make their voices heard at the polls, saying they could determine the outcome of the governor’s race and statewide Cabinet elections.
“There’s a lot that’s been written about young people and whether or not you all are going to participate in this election. This is your moment. This is your time. Everyone is watching to see whether or not this was just a blip on the screen of youth activism or whether you’re going to make it work by showing up at the polls in record numbers. I believe the latter,” he said. “I believe you all are going to show up, make your presence felt, and, in a state where the race for governor has come down to less than 70,000 votes these last two times, your votes may make the differences (in) who becomes the next governor, next CFO, next attorney general, next agriculture commissioner.”