With the election a week and a day away — and early voting well along in the Sunshine State — GOP candidate Ron DeSantis (pictured above left) on Monday hammered his Democratic opponent in the Florida governor’s race on issues of corruption and radicalism.
DeSantis, a former U.S. representative who has trailed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (above right) since the start of the general election campaign, focused on the Democrat’s position on issues way outside the purview of state government.
The GOP nominee said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” Monday morning that Gillum has no answer for why he signed a pledge from a group called Dream Defenders.
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The group supports BDS (for boycott, divestment and sanctions), a Palestinian movement that seeks to end what it regards as Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“We’re running for governor of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We’re not running for mayor of the Gaza Strip.”
Gillum has pushed back hard against the accusation he is anti-Israel. He said he supports a “two-state solution” and negotiations that would result in Israel and an independent Palestine existing side by side.
But critics of the Democratic nominee have pointed to a June 30 interview in which Gillum criticized the Israeli military’s response to rocket attacks from the Palestinian side on Israeli civilians as “outsized to the threat they’re attempting to squelch.”
Israeli intelligence officials say that the radical Muslim group Hezbollah, which controls much of the Palestinian territories, may have as many as 200,000 rockets aimed at Israeli towns and cities.
Gillum also called President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem “a provocation by the president that was unnecessary.”
DeSantis said it is not just Israel. He blasted positions by Dream Defenders on law enforcement.
A document published by the organization called the “Freedom Papers” questions the legitimacy of law enforcement.
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“Police were never meant to protect and serve me and you,” the manifesto states. “They started as slave catchers hired by wealthy plantation owners.”
The document also states, “Police and prisons have no place in ‘justice.’ Police and prisons aren’t just racist, but they work to enforce the separation of rich and poor. True safety can’t be found where it was never meant to.”
Gillum said the pledge he signed was limited to a promise not to accept campaign contributions from private prisons.
“I thought it was just so outrageous. I think the average voter thought it was outrageous. And he keeps going back to that because the cupboard is bare on any other ideas and issues.”
But DeSantis said Monday that Gillum’s association — combined with Tallahassee’s high murder rate — has discredited him.
“I’ve been endorsed by an unprecedented array of law enforcement groups, because at the end of the day, they want someone that’s gonna stand by them and support their mission,” he said.
Gillum is a progressive’s dream — and his surprise victory in the Democratic primary has drawn a bevy of heavy hitters in the party. Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned last week with both him and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Former President Barack Obama will appear with the Democratic ticket this week.
DeSantis said he is not concerned.
“He’s going to end up turning out more votes for me than he does for Andrew,” he said. “I think folks who might not otherwise want to vote, if they see Obama’s for Andrew, they’re gonna want to support me — particularly given his record on things like the Iran deal, cozying up to the Castro regime [in Cuba], being very weak when it comes to the [Nicolás] Maduro regime in Venezuela.”
He added, “I welcome President Obama. Hell, I should be paying for his travel expenses to come down here.”
DeSantis also pounded on the corruption theme, pointing to conflicting statements Gillum has given about his knowledge of a $1,000 ticket to the “Hamilton” Broadway musical that he accepted from an FBI investigator posing as a developer.
Gillum first contended he thought his brother had paid for the ticket, but then text messages contradicting that claim became public.
The Democratic candidate has responded by accusing DeSantis of currying favor with racists, the GOP nominee said.
DeSantis argued that Gillum’s racism charge at a debate last week backfired.
“That performance helped me tremendously,” he said. “I thought it was just so outrageous. I think the average voter thought it was outrageous. And he keeps going back to that because the cupboard is bare on any other ideas and issues.”
Turnout for in-person and absentee ballots is running ahead of the pace set in 2014. It’s up among both Republicans and Democrats, although the Republican lead is narrower at this point than it was four years ago, according to data compiled by University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith.
DeSantis said he feels good about his vote turnout operation and his ability to overcome a deficit of 3.3 percentage points in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average.
“We are doing well in the actual turnout, and we’re turning out the people we want to, and we’re turning out ahead of Democrats,” he said. “If we keep that up, we’re gonna win on November 6, and I think that’ll be a great day for Florida.”