Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

3 takeaways from Thursday’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate forum

The Democratic candidates for governor were all in the same place once again Thursday — but it wasn't a debate.

Instead, the candidates — Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — participated in a series of one-on-one interviews with News4Jax reporter Kent Justice.

Here are three key takeaways from the Jacksonville candidate forum, which may be one of the final times the candidates appear together before the August 28 primary.

1. Candidates struggled to articulate specific policy differences between them.

The crowded Democratic primary field has seen candidates struggle to carve out policy niches for themselves. The five candidates largely agree on gun control, education funding and the need to expand Medicaid in Florida. So where do they differ?

Graham, Levine and Gillum all tried at various points to make the case that voters should pick the candidate they think is most likely to successfully enact his or her agenda.

"All of the candidates, they all want to do the same thing," Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor, said. "The question is, who can get it done?"

"I'm committed to action," Graham, a former congresswoman, said. "I'm committed to having plans in place that from day one of my administration are going to start making a difference in people's lives."

"While we share a lot of commonality on the issues, I've actually stood up and led on them," Gillum said.

Some noteworthy differences have emerged in the primary. Orlando businessman Chris King, for example, is the only candidate who opposes the death penalty. But Thursday's forum had more to say about the candidates similarities than their differences.

2. Is Andrew Gillum a socialist? 'These labels mean nothing,' he said.

In an evening light on interesting moments, the Tallahassee mayor provided some intrigue in a response to a question from Justice. Gillum, who was recently endorsed by Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, was asked whether he is a socialist or a capitalist.

This was Gillum's response:

"I am a Democrat and an individual in this state who believes that we've had a rough ride these last several years. People are working, many of them harder than ever, and still can't bring down a wage where they can make ends meet. And so I realize that these labels are easy to throw on folks, but when you're struggling — when you want to make sure that you can work one job instead of multiple jobs as a way to make ends meet — these labels mean nothing. And so what I'm standing for is what is the everyday, lived experience of the people in this state. And I believe they need a champion, too."

3. The conflicts between candidates stayed on the sidelines. Candidate opinions on Donald Trump? Not so much.

Democrats hardly mentioned each other during the forum, preferring to focus on their visions for Florida. But many of them managed to bash President Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump just passed a tax cut with $1 trillion added to the deficit which did nothing to help working Floridians," Greene, a Palm Beach real estate billionaire, said at one point.

But, for example, Greene's spat with Graham over negative ads Greene has run against Graham didn't factor into Thursday's event. Neither did the Thursday-afternoon CBS Miami report about an incident between Greene and one of his employees in 2012.

Read more about those stories here:

Women's group: Jeff Greene should drop out of governor's race after 'assault' allegation

Jeff Greene says he sold his oil, energy investments as feud with Gwen Graham escalates

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