PALM BEACH GARDENS (CBSMiami) – The challenge for the 5 major Florida Democratic Gubernatorial candidates participating in a debate on Thursday night in Palm Beach Gardens was to try and differentiate themselves from one another.
A second goal for the four candidates running behind frontrunner Gwen Graham — seemed to be to try and attack her.
Through a myriad of topics the candidates — Graham, Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — tried to convince voters that they are the best Democratic candidate to take back Florida’s governorship after decades of Republican rule.
The candidates largely shared views on major issues like when it came to the NRA and school safety, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 and wounded 17 more.
“What NRA and (lobbyist) Marion Hammer have done to our state is shameful,” said Greene.
“We do not want to arm teachers with weapons,” said Levine. “We want to arm them with bigger paychecks.”
“I found a public safety statute, a Florida statute, that allows the governor whoever she is to ban sale of assault rifles,” said Graham. “I’m gonna sign that order. It’s gonna be one of the first things I do as Governor.”
They also agreed on wages and not raising taxes on working Floridians.
“I fully supported $15 minimum wage in this state,” said Gillum.
“We have to raise the minimum wage,” said Graham. “I’m gonna fight for 15.
“When I’m governor I will fight for better schools, high paying jobs will follow,” said Greene.
The candidates largely agreed that the Stand Your Ground law should be repealed, education spending and teacher pay needs to increase and more needs to be done on school safety.
They agreed that they wouldn’t raise taxes on working Floridians. They also tried to one up each other on who would be better at taking on President Trump.
“I said I would be scared to death if Donald Trump is my President and it’s worse than I ever thought,” Greense said.
“We have to stand up to a guy that we obviously all have a lot of problems with, “ said King.
“I am the only candidate who called for the impeachment of Donald Trump,” said Gillum.
There were some testy moments like when King attacked Graham over the company her family runs being involved in a proposed mega-mall in northwest Miami-Dade near the Everglades. She said she’s removed herself from the operations of her family’s company.
A few other moments stood out:
Levine mentioned creating an education security administration akin to the TSA to protect schools.
Greene came under fire for maintaining his membership at President Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club. He told reporters he keeps the membership to stand up to the President.
And Graham refused to rule out a campaign visit from former President Bill Clinton even in the midst of the MeToo movement. Levine later jumped on the question and said he would gladly take the former President’s assistance.
After the debate, each candidate appeared in the spin room to try and seal the deal with voters.
Levine touted his record as a businessman and a former Miami Beach Mayor who says he fought sea level rise, reformed the city’s police department and fostered more inclusiveness in the city during his terms.
“I believe that Florida is looking for a solution to show the country that we can come together,” Levine said.
Developer Greene said he’s the only candidate with the resources to adequately fight to win the race, promising to spend whatever it takes to become Governor.
“If you want to clean up the environment, fix our schools, provide healthcare for every Floridian, vote for Jeff Greene,” he said.
Tallahassee Mayor Gillum said he’s hoping a new round of advertising will increase his name and face recognition as he believes he is the foremost progressive in the race, earning an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Running against Donald Trump alone will not be good enough,” he said. “We have to give our voters a reason to turn out and vote for something and not just against.”
Entrepreneur King said he is standing firm behind policies like legalizing marijuana, ending the death penalty and finding solutions to the housing crisis and college funding.
“What makes me different is my willingness to show the type of courage that this state is begging for in its politics,” he said.
Graham, the daughter of former Governor Bob Graham and a former Congresswoman, said she’s prepared for the attacks of her fellow candidates and is ready to work to make life better for all Floridians.
“This election is about taking care and caring about Floridians and I’m gonna commit to do that,” she said.
This was the final debate for the Democratic candidates. For the next 26 days they will continue campaigning across the state ahead of the August 28 primary. The winner will face either of the Republican candidates — Ron DeSantis or Adam Putnam in the general election.