The second and final debate between Florida gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum was explosive, with the opponents trading barbs over DeSantis association with right wing extremists and Gillum’s corruption scandal as mayor of Tallahassee.
But the most compelling soundbite to emerge from the debate happened when moderator Todd McDermott asked about DeSantis’ appearances at far right events and his campaign contributions from a donor who turned out to have once called Barack Obama the n-word on Twitter.
“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis responded angrily, according to the New York Times. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness.”
Gillum followed up by very nearly calling DeSantis a racist.
From the Times:
“My grandmother used to say, ‘A hit dog will holler,’ and it hollered through this room,” [Gillum] said, spelling out letter by letter the slur Mr. DeSantis’s donor used. “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
“I am not going to sit here and take this nonsense from a guy like Andrew Gillum who always plays the victim, who’s going out and attacking and aligning himself with groups who attack our men and women in law enforcement, attack our military,” Mr. DeSantis shot back.
From the moment Gillum defied establishment expectations to win the Democratic Florida gubernatorial primary, race has been a central theme in the campaign. The day after Gillum’s win, DeSantis, who is strongly backed by President Trump, warned voters to not “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, a comment seen by many as a racist dog-whistle.
DeStantis has found his personal connections to racists under examination as well, from his appearances at far-right conferences hosted by anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim extremist David Horowitz, to his role as a moderator for a Facebook group full of racist vitriol. Through all of this, DeSantis has maintained that he himself is not a racist.
Two weeks out from the midterms, the race is still tight. A Florida Atlantic University poll from yesterday showed Gillum with a four point lead over DeSantis. Were he to win on November 6th, he will become Florida’s first black governor.