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Florida Democratic Party's Guide to the First Republican Gubernatorial Debate

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Ahead of the first Republican gubernatorial debate, the Florida Democratic Party is releasing a new digital ad, "Sellouts" and memo to introduce Floridians to the increasingly ugly and divisive Republican primary between NRA Sellout Adam Putnam and Fox News favorite Ron DeSantis.

"This is the most extreme, far-right field of Republican candidates Florida has ever seen. Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis are in a race to the right in which each candidate is aggressively competing to win over the GOP's extreme base," said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. "While the Democrats have already held three debates focused on issues like health care, education and the economy, the Republicans are in an all out brawl to be Donald Trump's man in Florida."

Watch the new digital ad here:

 

For months, Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis have completely avoided each other.

Putnam has stuck to largely biographical stump speeches around the state and spent millions on ads trashing "liberal elites." DeSantis has camped out in the green room of Fox News. Both candidates have let their allies do their dirty work. Outside groups — including the National Liberty Federation and now the Tenth Amendment Project — have aired divisive, often misleading ads — allowing the candidates to stick to their respective safe spaces.

Tonight, that will change.

Adam Putnam — who rarely even says Ron DeSantis' name — will be face to face with his opponent. And DeSantis — who has signaled he is ready to take a sharply negative campaign tone — will finally have the opportunity to confront the man he recently called the "pied piper of the cheap labor caucus."

As the candidates prepare for the first debate, here is what to watch for:

1. "The Pied Piper of the Cheap Labor Caucus": Will Ron DeSantis Go Full Trump on Adam Putnam?
When Ron DeSantis isn't talking about Donald Trump, he's talking about E-Verify. As Putnam moves far to the right on immigration, DeSantis seems intent on using E-Verify to prove that he is still the real conservative in the race. In recent weeks, DeSantis has been quick to point to E-Verify as the central difference between him and Putnam and has slammed Putnam as the "pied piper of the cheap labor caucus." For Florida Republicans, E-Verify is a toxic issue that pits the Trumpian base against the business community. And it's one Putnam is clearly uncomfortable addressing. When an E-Verify amendment was being considered by the Constitutional Revision Commission earlier this year, Putnam said nothing. And when the AP's Gary Fineout asked a Putnam spokesperson about his stance on E-Verify, the campaign twice refused to answer the question.

2. Will Ron DeSantis Hold Adam Putnam Accountable for His Mismanagement of the Department of Agriculture?
Ron DeSantis has emerged as a fierce critic of Putnam's handling of the concealed carry program. At campaign stops across Florida, he has accused Putnam of neglecting his official duties in order to campaign. Yet DeSantis has never had a large audience for these attacks: his harshest criticism of Putnam has been in press gaggles and at events with smaller audiences. Tonight, DeSantis will have the opportunity to hold Putnam accountable in front of a statewide audience. Will he take it? With Politico yesterday reporting on sexual harassment incidents at Putnam's Department of Agriculture, there is certainly ample opportunity to hold Putnam accountable for his record of mismanagement.

3. Will the Candidates Finally Address State Issues? Or Will This Debate Once Again Be All About Trump?
Will Fox News care about state issues? And will Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis simply talk about how conservative and Trumpian they are — or will there finally be a substantive discussion about education, health care, and economic growth? The Republican primary so far has been narrowly focused on hard-right issues like immigration and "Trumpian public safety agenda[s]." With Fox News signaling that the debate will focus on issues like trade, guns, and immigration, the critical issues facing the next governor that don't motivate the GOP base will likely get short shift.

4. On Education, Will the Candidates Move Beyond Platitudes and Address Teacher Pay?
Both Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis have made vocational education central to their campaign platforms. It's a relatively safe issue that has been advocated by members of both parties. On the bigger challenges facing Florida public schools — a lack of funding, low teacher pay — the candidates have said nothing. Putnam, despite styling himself as a champion for public education, came out against raising teacher pay last month and made the outrageous claim that Florida teachers don't mind being underpaid — they just want more respect. DeSantis hasn't even touched the issue and has said nothing about HB 7055, House Speaker Richard Corcoran's controversial education bill. With Fox News playing to a national audience, the issue may not be raised. That would be unfortunate: public education remains one of the most important undiscussed topics of the Republican gubernatorial primary.

5. Will Health Care Finally Get the Attention It Deserves?
A Fox News poll released this week showed that GOP primary voters second most important issue was health care. It's an issue that has been almost completely ignored by the Republican candidates this year. Neither Putnam or DeSantis mention health care on their websites and barely discuss it on the campaign trail. Both candidates have said nothing about how they think the state should address rising health care costs. And they have been silent on the Trump administration's effort to gut protections for Floridians with pre-existing conditions.