Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum made his first campaign stop alongside running mate Chris King on Saturday in Orlando, touching off what is expected to be a heated race for the post with Republican candidate Ron DeSantis and running mate Jeanette Nunez.
During a roughly 40-minute speech, Gillum emphasized pay raises for teachers, a criminal justice system that re-integrates those who serve their punishment and punishing the state’s biggest polluters in the midst of the so-called “red tide,” which is marked by a reddening of seawater because of toxins.
“What you will have is a governor who actually believes in science,” he said on stage in the gymnasium of the Orlando Downtown Recreation Complex.
The 39-year-old has fallen in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump of late, with the president on Friday once again mentioning Gillum during a campaign stop in Montana.
Gillum took to Twitter shortly after that stop, saying that he had heard the president had attacked “but still didn’t have the courage to @ me by name. Mr. President, my name is Andrew Gillum and I’m going to be the next Governor of Florida because lies and scare tactics don’t vote, people do.”
Gillum echoed that tone in Saturday’s speech, calling the president “cowardly” for not tagging him on the site, an action that gives Twitter users a heads up that someone is posting about them.
“We are going to show them that this type of government doesn’t work in 2018,” Gillum said of what he called a divisive approach to politics.
“We are not going to get in the gutter with them but when it comes to what we believe in, we will fight fiercely,” he said during Saturday’s speech.
In a statement, Republican National Committee spokesperson Taryn Fenske called Florida Democrats “hypocritical” for supporting the Gillum-King ticket.
“Andrew Gillum has used his public office for private gain – he’s been caught accepting gifts from undercover FBI agents, gave his campaign treasurer profitable contracts from the City of Tallahassee, and used taxpayer funded software to send political messages. Gilllum has no idea how to run the city of Tallahassee, let alone the entire state of Florida,” Fenske said.
The estimated crowd of about 1,200, which filled the gym’s balcony and most of the gymnasium floor, watched as a parade of Democratic politicians, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, praised Gillum.
Chris King, a primary opponent-turned-lieutenant governor nominee, turned some of his attention to criminal justice.
“Today, in Florida, we still have a problem with institutional racism,” he said. “We believe that, regardless of the color of your skin, who you love, who you worship, this state must present the same opportunities for justice for all.”
But Democratic candidate for chief financial officer Jeremy Ring brought the biggest laugh of the afternoon, saying that many in the crowd may not even have known that his position exists.
“I’m 48 years old and I’m the oldest person on this ticket,” he said.
Gillum said he would respond if provoked – as he did on Twitter – but that the campaign would focus on laying out their plan.
“Somehow, we have allowed the other side to convince us that the only way to win is by stepping on the necks of other people,” he said. “I reject that kind of politics.”
Gillum positioned the campaign as a proving ground for Democrats across the nation, saying winning the Governor’s Mansion in Florida would give them “the opportunity to show the rest of the nation what is possible.”
The enthusiastic crowd repeatedly broke into chants of “Bring it home” and once even started a “Yes we can” chant, echoing the slogan made popular during U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Wesley Davis, 25, a field organizer for Equality Florida, noted Gillum’s emphasis on promoting different groups’ rights throughout the speech.
“He is advancing rights to people who have been told they don’t have these rights,” Davis said. “Gillum and King will take this state in a direction we have needed.”
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