- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Florida governor’s race showed no signs of cooling down Sunday as Democrat Andrew Gillum warned Republican Ron DeSantis not to “weaponize race,” while Mr. DeSantis accused his opponent of wanting to “turn Florida into Venezuela” during a radio interview.

“I want to make Florida even better than it is,” Mr. DeSantis told AM 970 radio talk-show host John Catsimatidis. “He wants to turn Florida into Venezuela.”

The high-profile contest has been billed as a contest of polar opposites, pitting the right-wing, Trump-backed Republican congressman against Mr. Gillum, the left-wing Tallahassee mayor supported by Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and Democratic billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer.

Mr. DeSantis has moved to focus on his opponent’s platform after a disastrous week in which he was vilified for using the phrase “monkey this up” to refer to Mr. Gillum’s policies. The congressman has denied that he was referring to race — Mr. Gillum is black — while the mayor blasted the comment.

“I do find it deeply regrettable,” Mr. Gillum said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I mean, on the day right after I secured the Democratic nomination, we had to deal with some of the dog whistles directly from my opponent.”

Does he believe Mr. DeSantis is a racist?

“I have not called him a racist,” said Mr. Gillum on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“What I don’t want this race to turn into is a race of name-calling,” Mr. Gillum said. “I want to make sure that we don’t racialize and, frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process, which is why I have called on my opponent to really work to rise above some of these things.”

Fueling the racism issue were robocalls made Friday by an Idaho-based white-supremacist group against Mr. Gillum, which the DeSantis campaign condemned as “absolutely appalling and disgusting.”

“I’m pleased to see them decry those robocalls,” said Mr. Gillum. “But it’s also important that Ron DeSantis take control and ownership of his own rhetoric and words. Because we already know that, given the highly sensitized nation that we now find ourselves, that people take their cues.”

Mr. Gillum, who edged out former Rep. Gwen Graham in a crowded Democratic primary, also thanked his top two donors, Democratic moneybags Mr. Soros and Mr. Steyer.

“I’ll tell you, I’m obviously deeply appreciative of Mr. Soros, as well as Mr. Steyer, both men whom I’ve known for some time,” Mr. Gillum said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He also insisted that his gubernatorial campaign was driven by small donations from “everyday folks,” but it’s fair to ask whether his upset victory would have been possible without their generous contributions to Forward Florida, a pro-Gillum committee.

In the campaign’s final two weeks, Mr. Soros and Mr. Steyer reportedly directed $650,000 to Forward Florida. Mr. Soros chipped in another $250,000 in July, while Mr. Steyer’s NextGen American gave $500,000 between July 30 and Aug. 14.

Mr. DeSantis, meanwhile, warned that electing Mr. Gillum would result in a dramatic decline in investment, adding, “It’s the equivalent of just shooting ourselves in the foot as a state.”

“He’s on the far-left socialist fringe,” said Mr. DeSantis. “He’s a Bernie Sanders-, [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez-type of candidate. He wants to raise taxes in Florida 40 percent. He wants a single-payer health care system in Florida, which would bankrupt the state.”

Mr. Gillum pledged not to raise taxes on “everyday working Floridians,” but said corporations could afford it, given their windfall under the “Trump tax scam.”

“We’re not asking for all of it. We simply said, we believe that we ought to bring a billion of that money back into the state’s government,” Mr. Gillum said.

The candidates are seeking to succeed Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who’s challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

“I think Florida’s a great place to be, to live, to do business, to retire,” said Mr. DeSantis. “We need to build off the success Florida has enjoyed, and if you have a guy like this, enacting a socialist-style agenda, that’s going to absolutely destroy all the progress that Florida has made.”

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