It was literally a love fest on Saturday when the three leading Democratic candidates for Florida governor — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and businessman Chris King — got together for a forum.
“I love you, Andrew. I don’t know Chris as well, but I love you, too …We need a whole lot more love in this world,” Graham said at one point when candidates were asked to discuss their faith and the role it plays in shaping their political views.
The event, organized by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, marked the first time the 2018 candidates have appeared on stage together. It drew 300 or more people a few hours before the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue fundraising dinner, where former Vice President Joe Biden was the scheduled keynote speaker.
Gillum, Graham and King agreed on expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage, restoring voting rights to ex-felons, banning fracking, spending more money on public education and placing less emphasis on high-stakes testing.
Gillum in his opening remarks gave a shout-out to “the only governor in the room” — Bob Graham, the father of Gwen Graham. When King’s microphone cut out, Gillum and Graham offered him theirs. King promised that his campaign is “going to be positive. Positive. Positive. Positive.”
Beyond all the agreement and good feelings, each candidate contended that he or she is best positioned to win the governorship in 2018 after five straight victories by Republicans.
Gillum sought to position himself as the most progressive candidate and said Democrats can’t excite the party’s base and win elections by being “Republican lite.”
“Are you too progressive for a state like Florida?” Gillum asked rhetorically. “My answer to that is I think the only way we win is not by shrinking from who we are but by standing up for the values that make the Democratic Party.”
King, who heads a business that develops and revitalizes affordable housing projects, presented himself as a fresh face with experience that counters traditional Republican criticism of Democrats.
In the general election debate in the fall of 2018, King predicted, “there will be that moment that always comes” when the Republican nominee says, “You can’t trust this tax-and-spend liberal to manage Florida. You can’t trust this person because they can’t create jobs, they can’t grow business. They will ride this economy down, right? You’ve heard it every cycle.”
But, King said, “If you choose this Democrat as your nominee and I’m on that stage I will look to the Republican and say on the contrary, not this Democrat. This Democrat created jobs. This Democrat created successful businesses, created profit, delivered returns to investors, served customers all across the country …We can do well by doing good. That’s been the story I’ve tried to prove every year in business. It’s the story, if you give me the opportunity, I want to prove as your next governor.”
Graham was elected to the House in 2014, one of the only Democrats in the nation to unseat a Republican incumbent in a big midterm election for the GOP.
“I won with your help in a red year, a red Republican wave in a red district. And you know how I did it? I did it by going all over 14 counties in North Florida talking to everyone, connecting with everyone,” Graham said. “We’re going to bring out the base here in South Florida, we’re going to bring out the voters in the I-4 corridor. We’re going to do better in every part of Florida because we do not have another election to give.”