Florida Candidates Trade Barbs in Wake of Primary Wins

(CN) – Florida voters chose two gubernatorial candidates on the far sides of the ideological spectrum on Tuesday, cementing a contentious battle for governor in an already divisive midterm elections season.

Voter turnout for the primary was the highest for such a contest in 16 years.

Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who handily won his primary with an endorsement from President Donald Trump, will face the Bernie Sanders-backed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in November.

DeSantis, a three-term congressman, hopes to extend the two-decade Republican hold on the governor’s mansion while Gillum could make history by becoming the state’s first black governor.

By Wednesday afternoon, the viciousness of the governor’s race was on display.

In an early morning tweet, Trump called Gillum a “failed socialist mayor.” Later, in an interview on Fox News, DeSantis said Floridians shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.

The Tallahassee mayor’s supporters quickly pounced on the comments.

“It barely took 12 hours for Trump yes-man Ron DeSantis to make a racist comment about his opponent,” said Zach Hudson, a spokesman for the liberal American Bridge PAC. “Ron DeSantis’s comments are disgusting and he should be ashamed of himself.”

The state’s primary may prove to be a microcosm of the midterm election season, featuring record-breaking fundraising, massive voter turnout and the looming presence of Trump.

The differences between the two candidates for governor could not be starker.

DeSantis, first elected to the U.S. House during the Tea Party movement, repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and rails against illegal immigration. Gillum has proposed Medicare-for-all and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Trump endorsed DeSantis earlier this year and traveled to Tampa for a rally in support of the three-term congressman. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, once considered the front runner, trailed in polls since the endorsement.

Gillum, who became mayor in 2014, surprised many pollsters and political writers by leaping over four other well-funded candidates, including former Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire Jeff Greene and Chris King, a businessman from Orlando, also ran for the spot.

By late night Tuesday, Graham and Levine praised Gillum and promised to work to get him elected.

Current Gov. Rick Scott is term limited and running for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Both men did not have any significant challengers for their primaries.

The excitement among Florida’s electorate prompted the highest voter turnout for a primary since 2002. Nearly 2 million voters cast ballots early and more than a million more on Tuesday.

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