Politics in 2018 is not for the faint of heart. Gubernatorial candidates Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum have been conducting their campaigns with no quarter. The war cries of the candidates’ factions have grown in fervor to the point where DeSantis and Gillum have been overshadowed by the great and terrible caricatures of them that have been constructed.
Gillum and DeSantis were surprise nominations for their parties. DeSantis’s victory in the primary was credited heavily to President Donald Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis, who was a vocal advocate for the president when he was a state representative. DeSantis has leaned into the president’s endorsement in the general campaign, producing a television ad that shows him performing pro-Trump activities, like building a wall out of blocks with his young daughter and reading her Art of the Deal as a bedtime story. Similarly, Gillum’s surprise victory in the Democratic primary over Rep. Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine was assisted by an endorsement from progressive darling Sen. Bernie Sanders.
After a grace period of approximately one day, DeSantis was seized upon by left-wing media outlets for an Aug. 9 appearance where he pleaded with Florida voters to not “monkey this up.”
“In the handbook of Donald Trump, they no longer do whistle calls—they’re now using full bullhorns,” Gillum said in reference to the comment during an MSNBC interview, before going on to accuse DeSantis of using “derision and division” as a campaign tactic.
According to DeSantis, his intent was to warn voters that Florida’s booming economy would not be able to bare the weight of a Gillum governorship, but that did little to mute his critics. An anti-Gillum robocall funded by the Idaho-based white supremacist group Road to Power and the attendance of members of the ‘western chauvinist’ group, The Proud Boys, at a Sept. 22 DeSantis rally only enflamed the tensions that had erupted from DeSantis’s comment. Since then DeSantis’s campaign has lingered significantly behind Gillum’s campaign in eight polls held during September. Most unsettling to Florida Republicans was a Sept. 6 Quinnipiac poll that had Gillum nine points ahead of DeSantis.
DeSantis, after a flood of articles was released parading his abysmal polling, understood that he needed to take action. In an effort to make up some of the distance between him and his opponent, DeSantis hired a new campaign manager to lead him out the tempest he found himself in: the former chair for Trump’s Florida campaign, Susan Wiles. Shortly after she was appointed, DeSantis’s campaign swiveled from its defensive stance and took a swing at Gillum.
“I can find anti-Semites around him, I can find him doing things,” DeSantis said at a Sept. 24 rally about his competition, as he dismissed controversies about himself that the Gillum campaign were touting. “But it’s almost like we don’t want to discuss that.”
DeSantis’s comments referred to Gillum’s support for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Dream Defenders, two anti-zionist organizations. CAIR was one of the many ‘unindicted co-conspirators’ associated with the Holy Land Foundation, which was found to be illegally financing Hamas.
DeSantis also brought to light comments that Gillum’s running mate Chris King said after losing the race to become Harvard University’s student body president. “I was nailed to the cross,” King, an evangelical Christian, said in a Newhouse News Service article, regarding how the school’s newspaper covered him. “And most of the editorial staff that was so hard on me, the vast majority were Jewish.”
This strategy, which also includes questioning Gillum about corruption during his tenure as mayor of Tallahassee, was benefited by the Kavanaugh hearings, which many believe to have reinvigorated the Republican voting base.
“The Kavanaugh nomination has brought together the Republican Party in a way that no other fight could,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who was a large asset to Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “The feeling within the newly bonded GOP is that Democrats unfairly pulled out all the stops and used every creative political tactic they could to try and topple our nominee.”
The two most recent polls as of Oct. 9 have Gillum ahead by a single point, well within the polls’ margin of error. The comfortable lead that Gillum had been enjoying throughout September has been pulled out from under him. Even as fall comes and the weather cools, this race has only heated up.