TALLAHASSEE, FL — After suffering through months of campaign ads in one of the most expensive gubernatorial campaigns ever, Florida voters will finally choose their next governor on Tuesday with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum promising to expand healthcare, revamp the criminal justice system and legalize marijuana while Republican former Congressman Ron DeSantis pledges to carry on the economic policies that have brought low unemployment to the Sunshine State and created thousands of new jobs.
"We want to make sure that we can create the kind of state that works for everybody again," Gillum promised in his final campaign ad released Tuesday, urging Floridians to get out and vote. "I want you to bring it home for the faces that I cannot recognize, the names that I cannot call. If we get out and vote, if we get out and organize, if we vote like our lives depend on it, we can have that kind of state. But we cannot do it without you. So y’all, let’s bring it home." See also Election 2018 Results; Polls Open Across Florida
Gillum is vying not only to become the first Democrat to hold the office in two decades, but also to become Florida’s first black governor. DeSantis has enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, who made multiple trips to Florida on his behalf.
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Gillum and his wife R. Jai planned to cast their votes at 10 a.m. in Tallahassee at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church on Thomasville Road.
DeSantis took to Twitter to thank his supporters during the campaign on Tuesday. "This has been an incredible journey," he said. "Thank you to everyone who is voting today. Vote for economic prosperity. Vote for a veteran."
Election Day began with Gillum up by 4.4 points but the race still too close to call, according to political website RealClearPolitics. Gilllum got a boost in recent days by a visit from former President Barack Obama as well as a number of celebrities while DeSantis got a push from President Donald Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
The RealClearPolitics numbers are based on a statistical average of multiple polls. Both candidates are trying to succeed Gov. Rick Scott who was unable to seek a third term under Florida term restrictions. He is running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson.
The governor’s race has been marked by bitter name-calling and sharp political attacks with President Trump’s policies figuring prominently in the political discourse.
DeSantis appeared to stumble at the start of the campaign when he told Fox News on the day following his primary win: "The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state," referring to Gillum’s liberal politics.
Those comments touched off a storm of controversy that has dogged DeSantis throughout the campaign. DeSantis has attempted to paint Gillum as a socialist who perhaps should be impeached as Tallahassee mayor over ethics questions.
Gillum has asserted he paid his way on trips to Costa Rica and New York City, but newly released documents appear to contradict the Tallahassee mayor. Last week DeSantis supporters began chanting, “Lock him up. Lock him up" at a rally with President Trump.
Gillum has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing in the ethics probe, which is separate but related to an ongoing FBI investigation into city government.
The two candidates are also miles apart on issues like healthcare, gun reform, immigration, taxes, abortion, and the environment.
DeSantis pledged to stop illegal immigration into Florida by preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers and preventing communities in the state from becoming so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.
Gillum advocates what his campaign described as a compassionate immigration policy. He has promised to fight mass deportation policies "that threaten to split families and hurt Florida’s economy."
Gillum also supports the legalization of marijuana to pay for teacher and instructional staff pay increases and to reduce the mass incarceration of people with low-level drug offenses. In addition, Gillum wants to impose corporate tax levels of 7.75 percent, which would generate at least $1 billion by his estimate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Democratic governor candidate Andrew Gillum (left) greets people as he stumps for votes during a visit to the L.A. Lee Terrace apartment complex in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican nominee for Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis (right) attends a rally at Freedom Pharmacy on the final day of campaigning in the midterm elections in Orlando. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)