The most telling moment of the Andrew Gillum-Ron DeSantis Florida gubernatorial debate on CNN Sunday night came when moderator Jake Tapper broached the subject of DeSantis' racist comments and actions during the campaign.
"[DeSantis] has only continued... to bring attention to the color of my skin," Gillum said. "I have been black all my life." Then the crowd laughed before the candidate finished. "The only color the people of Florida care about is the blue-green algae coming out of the east and west of this state."
The second most telling, and certainly the funniest, comment came after DeSantis alleged Gillum has called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a weakening of immigration rules, a statement Politifact Florida has rated half true.
DeSantis called Gillum's position: "A wet kiss to the drug cartels."
Sunday night's debate was a raucous affair. The candidates often interrupted each other, exaggerated each other's records, and played to their respective bases. Gillum called DeSantis a Trump "stooge" and said the former congressman has "no relationship with the truth." DeSantis harped on high crime in Tallahassee and increased taxes that would be necessary to fund Gillum's initiatives, including more money for schools.
Though DeSantis scored points with his base of law enforcement and the military, he didn't do much to dig himself out of an apparent hole that seemed to deepen only hours before the debate began in Tampa at 8 p.m., when a new poll showed the former prosecutor and military veteran down 12 points to Gillum.
Indeed, DeSantis seemed to be playing catchup all night. He doubled down on the high crime rate in Tallahassee — an issue that has been used against Gillum throughout the campaign. It has worked some, and there is truth to it, according to an examination by Tallahassee.com. But Gillum was correct in saying crime in the state capital has been falling rapidly and is near its lowest in 20 years.
Of course, President Donald Trump played a huge role in the evening even though he wasn't there. DeSantis said he can work with Trump, defending his own environmental record and saying a reservoir would be built to clean up agricultural waste that has fueled the red tide on the Gulf Coast.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Gillum trashed Trump again and again. He noted that as the capital's mayor, he had worked with Republican Gov. Rick Scott (whom the new poll showed trailing incumbent Bill Nelson in the race for U.S. Senate) during the recent landfall of Hurricane Michael and said he would work with the president when necessary.
"We don't worship at the feet of the president; we hold him accountable," Gillum said. "Donald Trump is weak, a bully." Then the Tallahassee mayor added that DeSantis "is trying out to be the Trump apprentice." And he said, "In Trump's America, we have been led to believe that we have to step on our neighbors' shoulders, in their face, and on their backs to get ahead. Well, I reject that."
There was also substantial talk about Israel — they both love it — and health care. Gillum wants to increase Medicaid, which DeSantis said will bankrupt the state.
Overall, Gillum, despite a few moments of overly defensive talk, came off as the more polished and thoughtful speaker. DeSantis seemed like a guy who had talking points and was effective in driving them home but could only rarely put together a coherent argument beyond trashing his opponent. Conclusion: The former prosecutor and congressman confirmed his role as the likely loser.