Florida governor candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis have exchanged sharp personal barbs in a heated second — and final — debate before voters take to the polls next month to determine which candidate will lead their state for the next four years.
The pair dragged one another through the mud on the debate stage at Broward College in Davie, Florida, where they were asked to describe their plan for the state on issue ranging from the environment, immigration, healthcare, and education.
But, they repeatedly returned to personal attacks in the process, suggesting the race has turned into an all-out verbal brawl as the candidates enter the home stretch of an election that has drawn national attention as something of a proxy to larger political headwinds in America.
“We have seen the collapsing of our political discourse,” Mr Gillum, the mayor of Tallahasee, said early in the debate when asked about a string of pipe bombs that had been sent to the offices and homes of Democratic leaders across the country on Wednesday. “My opponent, endorsed by him, has run this race very, very close to the Trump handbook, where we call each other names, where we run false advertisements”.
Mr DeSantis, a former US congressman with the backing of President Donald Trump, repeatedly attacked Mr Gillum over text messages that were recently revealed showing the Tallahassee governor communicating about receiving tickets to the play Hamilton that were provided by an undercover FBI agent.
“He wants you believe that he’s not under investigation,” Mr DeSantis said. “Why would an undercover FBI agent posing as a contractor give you a ticket to Hamilton?”
The Democrat has repeatedly insisted that he has been told he is not the subject of an FBI investigation, but recognised that his handling of the situation has led to problems. There is no indication that the FBI is investigating Mr Gillum.
“I take responsibility for not having asked more questions,” Mr Gillum said during the debate, noting that he was under the impression that his brother had returned the favor for the Hamilton tickets by giving Beyoncé and Jay-Z tickets to the individual they received the play tickets from. “But let me tell you, I’m running for governor. In the state of Florida we have many issues. And tickets to Hamilton ain’t one of them.”
If you want to know how the debate unfolded, check our live coverage below
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Hello and welcome to The Independent's live coverage of the Florida gubernatorial debate.
The candidates are just about ready to take the stage here in South Florida, where they are meeting for their second debate.
In attendance tonight is Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose office received a suspicious package this morning as a part of a series of packages received by Democratic leaders in the US today and this week.
The packages are said to have contained pipe bombs.
In addition to Ms Wasserman Schultz, former President Barack Obama and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were also on the receiving end of the pipe bomb packages.
Congressman Ted Deutch is also in attendance, and told The Independent before the debate began that he expects that Mr Gillum, a fellow Democrat, will "lay out an optimistic vision for Florida".
As for Mr DeSantis, Mr Deutch said that he expects "a lot of desperate attacks from my former colleague".
A considerable portion of supporters were seen outside of the debate this afternoon, with a truck celebrating Mr DeSantis driving around the parking lot blaring country music.
Supporters of Mr DeSantis also wedged Trump flags into the ground, and said that immigration and the economy are driving policies behind their votes.
Mr Gillum's supporters, on the other hand, frequently referenced the state's education system and environmental concerns as major motivating issues. Many stopped short of bashing Mr Trump, but suggested that he is not a responsible steward of the United States.
Inside of Broward College, where the debate is being held, the debate moderators are now being brought onto the stage.
The candidates are still behind the scenes as pre-debate speeches are made.
"What this is all about tonight is a commitment to democracy," one of the moderators said.
And here they are, Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum.
The two gave a cordial handshake to one another, and then to the moderator.
The first question is to Mr DeSantis about the pipe bombs sent to Democratic leaders this morning.
He is asked if we've reached a point in divisive political discourse where people are being pushed over the edge.
He noted that he was at the congressional baseball practice last year where Republicans where shot in a politically motivated attack, and said he "condemns" both that shooting and the pipe bombs.
Mr Gillum is getting the same question. His response:
"I think the answer is absolutely it is. We saw not only around the country but right here in our own state Democratic elected officials who were targeted, thankfully nobody was hurt in today's incidences.
"We've really seen a collapsing of political discourse," Mr Gillum said before attacking his opponent for early remarks that he would "monkey it up" if he is elected governor— which has been cast by the democrat as a racist attack.
Mr DeSantis has attacked Mr Gillum for signing a pledge that he says put police at risk.
Mr Gillum responds that Mr DeSantis lied "21 times. Twenty one", during the first debate. He then said that the attacks now bring the number to 22.
Mr DeSantis has accused Mr Gillum of lying about receiving a "$1,000 ticket" to a broadway show. He said that he lied about receiving that ticket, and that it has been proven now that he did receive such a ticket from an undercover FBI agent because of recent news reports.
Mr Gillum defended himself, and recognized that he did see the show, but that he received the ticket from his brother.
"I take responsibility or not having asked more questions," Mr Gilum said.
"I am not the subject of an FBI investigation, neither is my city," he continued.
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