Give Philip Levine this: He knows how to grab the pressing issue of the day and run with it for maximum media exposure. As Miami Beach's mayor, Levine leveraged his office on the sea-level rise threatened barrier island to become an international voice for climate change, appearing regularly on CNN, chatting up Al Gore at events and even nabbing a cameo in Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary.
Now that he's aiming for the Democratic nomination for governor, Levine has jumped hard into the post-Parkland gun control debate with a new 30-second ad with an unambiguous stance: Levine says as governor he'd fight for a permanent ban on assault weapons like the AR-15 Nikolas Cruz used to murder 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High last week.
"The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High is a wake-up call," Levine says in the ad. "We need reasonable gun regulation, better background checks, and a permanent ban on assault rifles. If the legislature won't do it, we will."
There's no doubt Levine carefully calibrated the ad for impact amidst the emotional debate roiling the state today, but — as with his climate change activism on the Beach — you can't fault his message.
And his timing is spot-on. Levine debuted the ad just as the Florida House's Republican majority voted down even a discussion of banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines as a gallery full of Stoneman Douglas survivors looked on, with some openly weeping at the vote.
Guns are likely to be a massive wedge issue in the governor's race. GOP front-runner Adam Putnam proudly called himself an "NRA sellout" on his website until the Parkland shooting; he's since scrubbed that reference and yesterday he literally slammed the door on a Politico reporter who asked if he would still boast of "selling out" to the gun lobby.
Gwen Graham, Levine's front-running competitor for the Democratic bid, has called for an immediate "suspension" of all assault weapon sales and supports a full ban on the weapons. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum says he also favors a full assault weapon ban.
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Levine's pledge is really the easiest call for any Democrat running statewide in Florida after the massacre at Stoneman Douglas. Nationwide polls show nearly 70 percent in favor of banning the military-grade weapons and that number might be even higher in Florida after the horror in Parkland. Similarly high numbers want tighter background checks and better mental health screenings.
Those are exactly the measures that hundreds of Stoneman Douglas High students will be demanding in a march on Tallahassee today. Their anguished pleas will almost certainly fall on deaf ears in the GOP-dominated statehouse that's bought and paid for by the NRA.
Whether the Democrats' promises to go hard on gun control can finally flip the majority in Tally remains to be seen.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Graham's position on banning assault weapons.