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LAKE BUENA VISTA (CBSMiami/AP) — There is a big opening in Tallahassee, or at least there will be.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida will probably be on the ballot next year, but it won’t be for governor.
That didn’t stop the three major Democratic candidates hoping to replace him from taking shots at him instead of each other.
Former U. S. Rep. Gwen Graham, businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum participated in a candidate forum Saturday night at the state Democratic party’s biennial convention and criticized Scott for not expanding health care, refusing federal money for a high-speed train, denying climate change and not being more prepared for Hurricane Irma.
Scott is leaving office due to term limits and is expected to announce a run against Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. The Democrats hoping to replace him were more unified than divided during the party convention.
The candidates showed no differences on issues like immigration, the environment and juvenile justice and restoring felons voting rights once they complete their sentences.
One might say it was a lovefest.
“Andrew and I have been friends for a very long time,” Graham, a Tallahassee resident, said of Gillum. “I love Andrew. And I have got to know Chris and his family in this process and I love you Chris and your family.”
“I love Gwen,” King replied.
Gillum, too, called for unity and said he will support his opponents should either of them win the nomination for governor, saying either would be “lightyears better” than Republicans seeking to replace Scott, who has to leave office because of term limits.
There were difference on style, background and experience that each noted.
Graham, the daughter of former Governor and Sen. Bob Graham, pointed out that just because she is a lover, doesn’t mean she’s also not a fighter.
“Many of you know that I’m a hugger,” Graham said, before listing the names of the Republicans in running or thinking about running for governor. “I may be a hugger, but in a moment, in a second, just like that, it can turn into a headlock.”
She then pointed out her success in the only other political campaign she’s run — beating Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in 2014 in a district that leaned toward the GOP.
“I sent a tea party Republican Party Republican packing. I won in a red year in a red district,” she said.
King, who has never run for political office, pointed out his business background and his success in developing affordable housing.
“I am a new candidate,” said King, who has spent $1 million of his own money on the campaign. “I am a fresh voice trying to earn your trust. I am not the typical candidate. I am not a career politician. I’m not beholden. I don’t have a lifetime of political debts.”
Gillum was a 23-year-old college student when he became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee city commission in 2003. He was elected mayor in 2014.
“I don’t believe you have to be from a famous family or write your own check to become governor of the state of Florida,” Gillum said to loud applause.
Convention delegate Dave Wottitz said it was the first time he heard any of the candidates speak, and while he said he would be comfortable with any of the three as the nominee, he thought Gillum had the best delivery.
Wottitz is exactly the type of voter that Democrats hope turn out next year. Wottitz, 68, of Boca Raton said he is returning to political activism for the first time since the 1970s because he’s unhappy with President Donald Trump.
“I need to know that my daughter has a place in this society. My daughter is adopted. She’s black, she’s Jewish, she’s a woman and she’s gay. Where does she fit in Donald Trump’s world?” he said. “I need to know that I did something to find her that place.”
Republicans running for the seat include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Sen. Jack Latvala. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is considering a run.
Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is expected to enter the race this week.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)