The two candidates for Florida governor hurled accusations and insults at each other during a debate held in Tampa on Sunday.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Rep. Ron DeSantis had never met prior to the debate, which was moderated by CNN and aired on the cable news network.
The two candidates, who are running neck-and-neck for the state’s top position, cast aside the pleasantries shortly after their inaugural handshake. The two had plenty to fight about when it comes to policy and politics but they chose to get personal.
Gillum, a Democrat who supports impeaching Donald Trump, accused DeSantis, a conservative Republican running on a pro-Trump agenda, of serving as the president’s acolyte.
[More: Trump bashes Tallahassee in DeSantis endorsement]
“He’s his stooge,” Gillum said.
DeSantis accused Gillum of operating under a shadow of corruption for refusing to say whether an FBI agent posing as a lobbyist as part of an undercover sting operation paid for a lavish trip to the tropics and tickets to the Broadway play "Hamilton."
“You went to a Broadway show with an undercover FBI agent,” DeSantis said. “Did you pay for 'Hamilton'? Did you pay for the trip?” DeSantis said. He demanded Gillum show the receipts.
Gillum said he is not the subject of the FBI probe nor is Tallahassee. But he did not say specifically who paid for the trip or the tickets to the play.
Gillum accused DeSantis of misspending $145,000 used to pay for congressional delegations he took while a member of Congress, although he provided no evidence show DeSantis misused the funds and DeSantis pointed out the funding is made public.
“I lived in my office,” desalts said, referring to his time in Washington serving in Congress. Gillum, DeSantis said, “used the office to benefit himself.”
Gillum suggested DeSantis is a racist, pointing to a far-right Facebook page for which DeSantis claims he was unknowingly an administrator. Gillum then raised the DeSantis Fox News interview after his victory in the state’s GOP primary in which he warned voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.
“The 'monkey it up' comment said it all,” Gillum said. “And he has only continued throughout his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin.”
DeSantis said his record as a lawmaker, former prosecutor, and member of the military shows he’s not a racist and wouldn’t act as one if elected governor.
“Floridians can know I will be a governor for all Floridians,” DeSantis said.
The two also sparred about policy with equal animosity.
DeSantis said Gillum backs an agenda that mirror’s that of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist.
Gillum supports “Medicare for all” which would kick people off their current heath plans and force them into a government-run system that would also damage the current Medicare program enjoyed by seniors.
Gillum would not say whether he backs "Medicare for all," but claimed he merely wants to expand Medicaid in Florida under the terms of Obamacare, which he said would bring the state $6 billion in federal funds to help the poor and low income gain healthcare.
“We are going to work diligently to expand Medicaid,” Gillum said.
Gillum swung back with an accusation that DeSantis is anti-environmentalist and would not help Florida combat climate change. Gillum said he would promote making Florida a global leader in solar energy and would hold the state’s biggest polluters accountable. As Tallahassee mayor he ushered in a 120-acre solar farm in the city.
If elected, Gillum said, “they are going to have a governor who believes in science.”
He accused DeSantis of acting as “an election year environmentalist.”
But DeSantis pointed to his work in Congress to bring federal funding to Florida for clean water projects and to ensure the state received a waiver to avoid off-shore oil drilling. DeSantis has received an endorsement of a key environmental group and has devised plan to help restore the Everglades.
DeSantis also called out Gillum for his support of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and he asked Gillum if he would work with ICE to deport illegal immigrants who are held in state and local jails.
“Will you honor a detainer request?” DeSantis asked Gillum.
Gillum refused to answer the question directly. “What we will do is follow the law,” Gillum said. “If you commit the crime you will do the time.”
DeSantis said Gillum has been at the helm of a city with the highest murder rate in the state.
Gillum said the state’s crime is actually declining. “Ron is being Don, that is, Donald Trump,” Gillum said “Neglecting all reason and facts.”
DeSantis would not back down. “Did you have record murders last year?”
According to law enforcement statistics, Tallahassee has the highest crime rate in the state and the third-highest murder rate. Law enforcement statistics showed Tallahassee crime decreased in 2017.
The latest RealClearPolitics polling average shows Gillum with a lead of 3.7 percentage points.