As the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum intensifies, the candidates stay firm in their ideological positions at a point when most candidates would move towards the political center to win undecided voters.
Florida Gubernatorial Race Exemplifies Political Polarization in 2018 Midterm Elections
HODA KOTB, anchor:
We are back, counting down to Election Day with our special series The Vote: America’s Future.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, anchor:
Well, the race to be the next governor of Florida is one of the most closely watched in the nation. The President is heading there today for a major campaign rally, hoping to fire up folks for the Republican candidate there.
CRAIG MELVIN, reporting:
He’s been weighing in on the race for months in fact even taking some heat earlier this week for labeling the Democratic candidate a thief. So why is this statewide race so important on a national scale? We headed to the Sunshine State to find out.
RON DESANTIS: You got it.
MELVIN: With less than a week to go until Election Day, the gloves are off.
ANDREW GILLUM: So we need you.
MELVIN: On the road and in there debates, the candidates to be the next governor of Florida have channeled the no-holds-barred style of politics that has dominated the nation.
GILLUM: I’m not calling Mister DeSantis a racist. I'm simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.
DESANTIS: I’m not going to sit here take this nonsense from a guy like Andrew Gillum, who always plays the victim.
MELVIN: Headlines have called the race the epitome of politics in the Trump era. The candidates representing the polarizing extremes of both parties.
WOMAN #1: If the Democrats get in power, the country goes in the wrong direction.
WOMAN #2: If we don’t have a blue wave coming, it’s going to be horrible for the working class.
MELVIN: Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, a surprise victor in the Democratic primary. His liberal, progressive politics once thought too extreme, now resonating and putting him and other progressive candidates across the country on the midterm ballot. Former Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis cruised to victory his primary by embracing the President.
DESANTIS: So if the President's going to send folks down there to safeguard the border, I'm all for that.
MELVIN: One of many Republicans to benefit from his support. This ad getting national attention, reading the President’s book, The Art of the Deal to his son.
DESANTIS: Then Mister Trump said you’re fired. I love that part.
MELVIN: Both men attracting big names to their state as they try to reach the majority of voters in the middle. Do you see it as two guys who come from opposite ends of the political spectrum?
GILLUM: I don’t fit very neatly into that box. I mean, I believe in corporations. I believe in business. But I also believe in people. And I don’t think you have to choose one over the other.
MELVIN: Gillum won his first public office at the age of 23 while still in college. He was elected Tallahassee’s mayor in 2014. His views very different from his opponent and some in his own party. So you do want to raise taxes on businesses?
GILLUM: That’d be correct. I believe that businesses ought to pay their fair share.
MELVIN: You do want Medicare for all?
GILLUM: I do believe that health care ought to be a right and not a privilege.
MELVIN: So you would acknowledge that you are perhaps more progressive than anyone in your party?
GILLUM: Oh, well, progressive-- progressive I wouldn't deny any day of the week.
MELVIN: On the other side, DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer and Iraq War vet, was elected to Congress in 2012. He’s been drawing big crowds, touting the President’s achievements and agenda.
DESANTIS: We got 23 low in unemployment. The Iran deal is dead. Our taxes have been cut. I’d say that’s pretty good work for a year and a half.
MELVIN: DeSantis has been hammering Gillum over an FBI investigation into possible corruption.
DESANTIS: And I’m the only candidate running that can credibly say he’s not under investigation for corruption by the FBI.
MELVIN: Gillum denies he is the target of that investigation. The FBI has not commented. Gillum, who would be the first black governor of Florida, has sparred with his opponent over race, especially after this controversial comment.
DESANTIS: The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.
MELVIN: A spokesman for DeSantis has said he was only asking voters not to make the wrong decision in November.
GILLUM: My opponent spends a lot of time talking about and helping to remind people of my race. And I spend a lot of time trying to focus people on what it is that I'm trying to talk about.
MELVIN: The candidates in Florida and nationwide, trying to get their message out to a divided nation. We should note that we did reach out to the DeSantis team for an interview. He was not available. Most of the latest polls show Gillum leading but only by a slight margin. So it’s still anyone’s race. A lot of folks out there watching to see how the Trump factor impacts the results. President Obama heading to Florida, campaigning on behalf of Gillum on Friday. In most races, you have covered enough of these races, you know, you have candidates who in the primaries, they will appeal to the base--
MELVIN: --and then for the general election, they will run back to the middle. Not happening in Florida.
MELVIN: This is not a race where both candidates are trying to appeal to centrist-minded voters.
GUTHRIE: Well, this election in a lot of ways is going to be a test of that. Do you still try to go up the center or do you stay at the polls?
GUTHRIE: What works? We’re going to find out Tuesday night. Thanks, Craig.
MELVIN: Yeah. Just a few days from now.
KOTB: Thank you.
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