Florida gubernatorial candidates Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis met for their second and final debate Wednesday night ahead of the midterm elections.
Taking place in Davie, Florida, the Tallahassee Mayor and former U.S. congressman traded sharp words on topics of national and local interest like today’s news of explosive devices being sent to a number of public figures and cable news organization CNN, to controversial racial comments made throughout the race, an investigation into free “Hamilton” tickets, and health care.
Pipe bomb rhetoric
Opening up the debate, both candidates were asked if they felt like the current political climate could have inspired a number of explosive devices to be sent to political figures like Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, a number of other prominent Democrats and the New York City building that houses CNN.
DeSantis did not say if he thought the political discourse could at all be connected to the explosive devices being sent, but he did talk about one of the last times violence came about because of political disagreements.
Chris OMeara/Pool via ReutersA combination photo of Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis (L), and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum during a CNN debate in Tampa, Fla., Oct. 21, 2018.
"I was at the congressional baseball practice when a gunman tried to shoot my teammates, did shoot Steve Scalise because he didn’t like Republicans," DeSantis said, referring to the June 2017 attack in which a gunmen, who was said to be a left-wing activist, opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers practicing for charity baseball game. "I condemn that, I condemn what happened today, obviously we need to get the facts before we jump to conclusions. But I think it is important that we try to unify."
Gillum, on the other hand said there was a connection between the explosive devices and the political climate.
"We saw not only around the country but right here in our own state. Democratic elected officials that were targeted," Gillum said. "We’re really seeing a collapsing of our political discourse."
A topic now engrained in the dynamics of the Florida gubernatorial debate, both candidates had a lot to say when it came to the controversies regarding racism.
DeSantis was asked about his affiliations with political donors and figures who have at various points made questionably racist remarks, including a donor who once called President Obama the N-word and his own use of the phrase "monkey this up" when referring to Gillum, his African-American opponent.
DeSantis got very testy on the topic, at one point saying he can’t know everything his supporters or people he is affiliated with could have said at one time or another. He instead said he would represent all Floridians, regardless of race, but would not participate in political correctness.
Gillum responded saying "I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist."
Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesRepublican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally at Mo's Bagels restaurant in Miami, Oct. 23, 2018.
DeSantis followed up and said "I’m not going to sit here and take this nonsense like Andrew Gillum who always plays the victim, who’s going out and attacking, who is aligning himself with groups who attack our men and women in law enforcement."
"Hamilton" ticket controversy
A big topic going into the debate were the revelations that Andrew Gillum accepted tickets to the hit Broadway musical, "Hamilton," from an undercover FBI agent investigating public corruption in the state capital back in 2016.
Gillum said that while he is not the subject of an FBI investigation, he has "zero tolerance for corruption." However, he did admit he should have asked more questions about how the tickets were obtained before turning to say there were more pertinent things to think about now.
"I’m running for governor, in the state of Florida we got a lot of issues, in fact we have 99 issues and 'Hamilton' ain’t one of them," Gillum said.
However, the issue has remained a thorn for the Gillum campaign when documents released Tuesday raised new questions about whether Gillum was aware the tickets were coming from the agent, known as "Mike Miller," who was posing as a developer.
The documents, which had been subpoenaed by the Florida Commission on Ethics, were released by the lawyer representing Gillum’s lobbyist friend, Adam Corey.
Shortly after winning his primary at the end of August, Gillum’s campaign released a statement saying that in 2016 his brother Marcus Gillum gave the mayor a ticket to see "Hamilton," and that Marcus had gotten the "Hamilton" ticket in a "ticket swap with Adam Corey for a concert ticket."
However, the newly released documents showed that while Gillum was on a trip to New York City, Corey texted him saying "Mike Miller" had "Hamilton" tickets for the "crew." Gillum texted back, "Awesome news about Hamilton."
Health care battle
An issue typically polling as one of the most important to Floridians, health care proposals became a big issue in the debate.
While Gillum proposes a "Medicare for all" platform, he said providing a single payer plan in conjunction with other states is something personal to him.
"We deserve to expand medicaid and offer access to healthcare for over 800,000 of the most medically needy people in our state," Gillum said. "This means something to me, I remember having to wait for the free dental clinic to come through my neighborhood in order to have my teeth cleaned."
DeSantis, on the other hand, said Gillum’s proposal will cost Floridians health care plans they worked to have.
"The bottom line is we have to make it more affordable for people. We’re also focused on protecting people’s existing coverage," DeSantis said. "Andrew supports a single payer plan which will force people off medicare, force people off their employer plans, dump them on a single payer government plan. That is wrong, you should be able to keep the coverage that you’ve earned."