Suddenly, the Democratic candidates for Florida governor are popping up all over the place, their campaigns bursting with energy — and increasingly testy back-and-forth exchanges.
On Friday, it was South Florida’s turn.
Philip Levine wrapped up a bus tour of the state with stops in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Key Largo. Chris King spoke to College Democrats at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and Young Democrats in West Palm Beach.
“They’re gearing up,” explained Cynthia Busch, chairwoman of the Broward Democratic Party, describing the increased level of activity by the candidates in the past week.
Levine has been traveling the state by bus for his “Live! from Florida’s Living Rooms” tour, billed as a response to outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech this week.
In Fort Lauderdale on Friday, he spoke to about 20 people at the home of former Broward County Commissioner Ken Keechl and his husband Ted Adcock.
Levine was largely biographical, describing his youth in Coral Springs and Hollywood, and the jobs he worked — washing cars, scooping ice cream, parking cars at hotels.
The candidate offered more general ideas than detailed policy prescriptions.
He wants Florida to become known for innovation and investment in people and better public education and higher teacher pay. If elected, he said he’d appoint a chief resilience officer to work on climate change and an economic czar to concentrate on rural Florida.
He told the largely LGBT audience that he wanted a state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Levine, who often talks about centrism and his desire to win Republican votes, said the governor’s race won’t be won in November simply by opposing President Donald Trump.
He arrived only about a half hour late, avoiding his Wednesday evening pitfall, when his bus broke down en route from Tallahassee to Pensacola, forcing him to hold a “virtual campaign stop” for Escambia County Democrats.
As Levine wrapped up his appearance in Fort Lauderdale, Chris King was just beginning his own stop at Florida Atlantic University, where he met with the College Democrats as part of his “Affordable Living Tour” of South Florida.
Before he gave his usual campaign pitch, the Central Florida developer who specializes in affordable housing, addressed comments by President Trump, who, as widely reported, referred to Haiti as a “shithole country” during a meeting on immigration at the White House on Thursday. Writing Friday on Twitter, Trump denied making the reference to Haiti.
“What the president said was vulgar, it was cruel, it was mean, it was un-American, completely unacceptable. It’s why we have to win this race, he said, calling it “the most pivotal election in 2018 in the country, maybe the world,” King said.
Then King presented his big three proposals: Increasing affordable housing by stopping the Florida Legislature from raiding an affordable housing trust fund every year to balance the budget, making community college and trade schools tuition-free and protecting the environment.
Many of the 16 College Democrats liked what they heard from King, calling him “likeable” and “charismatic.”
“I was worried. He’s a businessman and he doesn’t have any political experience, but he is the only candidate who has really spoken about LGBT issues,” club president Marina Braynon said. As a lesbian, that made a big difference to her.
A poll released Thursday by the Political Institute at the Florida Chamber of Commerce found 64 percent of Democratic voters are undecided.
Graham had the support of 14 percent of likely Democratic voters. Levine had 7 percent. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has 6 percent.
King had just 1 percent.
“It’s still very early in what will be a busy 2018 election cycle. In the coming months, voters will begin to take a much closer look at the candidates for office,” said Marian Johnson, senior vice president for political operations at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, in a statement about the results.
Ken Evans, the state Democratic committeeman for Broward, said he wasn’t disturbed by the high percentage of undecided voters because the primary isn’t until August.
Evans said it’s a difficult environment for candidates to break through to voters. “People are just so captivated on a daily basis by what’s going on with Donald Trump. It’s such a reality show that they’re all watching.”
Zach Learner, King’s campaign manager said he wasn’t concerned about his boss’s 1 percent showing. “The more people get to see Chris and learn about him, the more they’re gonna like him.”
On Friday, the Graham and Levine campaigns continued their increasingly bitter exchanges.
Among the disagreements: Who worked harder for the unsuccessful 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, a former Florida Senate Democratic leader and unsuccessful candidate for the 2014 nomination for governor, said in a statement that Graham campaigned “across the state of Florida” for Clinton.
Levine said he spent “over a year of my life” across the country on behalf of Clinton.
In the statement released by the Graham campaign, Rich also chastised Levine.
“If Philip Levine thinks he can win by insulting women, he’s running in the wrong primary. He couldn’t go two days on his first statewide tour as a candidate without attacking Gwen with false claims,” Rich said. “Saying that a woman is only able to run for office because of the men in her life is straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.”
Levine said he’s never attacked women. “It’s a shame that Gwen doesn’t have any real issues to run on that that she is attacking so early in the race,” he said. “I know that she wanted a coronation, but she’s getting a competition instead, because this is a democracy in Florida.”
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