TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In a sign that the next 10 weeks could eclipse past campaigns in the nation’s largest political battleground, Florida’s race for governor swiftly became heated and personal after the surprising primary victories of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
Gillum, a far-left Democrat seeking to become the state’s first black governor, and DeSantis, a Trump-endorsed Republican, are political opposites. DeSantis assailed Gillum in a Wednesday television appearance that critics denounced as racist after the Republican called Gillum an "articulate" candidate, but said "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 this state." President Donald Trump, also weighed in on the race by calling Gillum a "failed socialist mayor" on Twitter.
Gillum responded by decrying what he called the "gutter politics" of DeSantis that he said echoes the influence of Trump on American politics.
"I think the Florida electorate is going to reject the politics of division," Gillum said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We’re going to try to compel and appeal to the higher values of the people of the state of Florida."
The exchange between the two campaigns came less than a day after a primary outcome that appeared unthinkable a few months ago. DeSantis came from behind in the GOP primary with the help of Trump to beat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who campaigned longer, raised more money and built party establishment support.
Gillum upset a field of five that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who was hoping to become the state’s first female governor and win the office once held by her father, Bob Graham. Gillum spent the least of the major candidates, but won the hearts of those who consider themselves progressives, and got a late boost from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
DeSantis, who has been a frequent guest on Fox News, took to the network to blast his general election opponent as someone who would hurt the state. But his interview came quickly came under fire by Democrats and quickly raged across social media.