Democrat Andrew Gillum called Republican opponent Ron DeSantis “unstable” Monday after the former congressman accused the Tallahassee mayor of aligning himself with anti-Israel extremist forces and blasted the media for what he said is a “double standard” in the coverage of the race for Florida governor.
In an afternoon that was shades of Decision 2016, the opponents campaigning for the top job in Florida escalated their war of words through the media during separate appearances around the state.
DeSantis fired first, ripping into reporters during a press gaggle Monday morning for, he said, treating Gillum with kid gloves while asking him repeatedly about racially charged statements and incidents directly and indirectly involving his campaign. DeSantis, who was visiting an Oldsmar manufacturing business called Performance Feeders, was irked by questions about his appearances at conservative conferences founded and attended by speakers with extreme views, and campaign ties to a donor behind racist social media posts.
“It’s an attempt to create a narrative. You do not do that with Andrew Gillum,” said DeSantis. “Oh no. He gets a zone of protection. So, it’s a double standard. It’s an attempt to create a narrative. If I have a crowd of 500 people, how the hell am I supposed to know who’s in the crowd?”
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DeSantis, whose campaign has repeatedly denounced racist statements when pressed, said reporters have ignored Gillum’s financial support from the Dream Defenders, a social justice group that has called Israel an “apartheid” state, and for welcoming the Council on American-Islamic Relations to Tallahassee in 2016 despite the civil rights group’s naming by the federal government in 2008 among nearly 250 groups and individuals as an “unindicted co-conspirator or joint venturer” in a case involving funding for Islamic militant groups. (CAIR strongly denies any extremist ties, and the district court and a federal appeals court later ruled that it had been a mistake to make the list public, according to the Washington Post.)
DeSantis also accused Gillum of practicing “crony socialism,” and cast doubt on whether receipts and bank statements released by the Tallahassee mayor from trips to Costa Rica with lobbyist friends and to New York with his brother and undercover FBI agents adequately showed that he’d steered clear of the problems that drew federal investigators to spend years digging into Tallahassee City Hall.
“I think it’s just, he’s not being honest with the folks,” DeSantis said.
Gillum, who has said for more than a year that he’s not a subject of the FBI investigation — and it has never been proven otherwise — quickly responded Monday on Twitter by calling DeSantis “unstable.” He elaborated following an appearance in Miami where he was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and joined by SAVE and Equality Florida, saying that video of DeSantis’ comments showed him “come apart.”
“The heat of this campaign appears to be getting to him as he’s being asked to, quite frankly, explain why so many people with such hateful sentiments are coming to his support,” said Gillum, whose supporters had just spent the past half hour ripping into DeSantis for his views on gays and lesbians. “I’m a little bit surprised that he’s sort of going off on all of these tangents, accusations against me. But he seems to take issue any time that he’s held to account.”
Despite allegations that he’s antagonistic to Israel, Gillum has explicitly said that he supports the nation of Israel and opposes the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement that seeks to penalize Israel over protests of its treatment of Palestinians.
“The Mayor and the Dream Defenders, who are one of the leaders in the struggle for social justice here at home, don’t agree on everything: he doesn’t support BDS or other efforts that undermine the peace process,” Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan told the Miami Herald recently. Burgan explained that Gillum welcomed CAIR to Tallahassee, where they lobbied the state Capitol last year, solely in his role as mayor.
Reached Monday, Wifredo Ruiz, a spokesman for CAIR Florida, said the group is focused on promoting positive relations between Muslim-Americans and their neighbors and called DeSantis “ignorant.” He said DeSantis is simply following the playbook of President Donald Trump.
“He’s crying for attention,” Ruiz said.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Adam Smith contributed to this report.