Democrats are hammering the state GOP party and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis for running negative attack ads against his opponent Andrew Gillum as Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle Wednesday.
The Tallahassee mayor and Democratic nominee for governor was on MSNBC talking about how his city was preparing for the Category 4 storm, which made landfall near Mexico Beach around 1:45 p.m. Gillum said DeSantis had "decided to leave all of his negative advertising up" in regions that could be battered by the hurricane.
"Those news alerts are obviously on commercial break being intermittently interrupted by negative campaign ads that are untrue," Gillum told MSNBC host Hallie Jackson. "That's unfortunate. We can't recall a time where candidates for statewide office have not pulled down negative ads during hurricane season. You got a whole region of our state where folks are fleeing for their lives, anticipating what is a life-threatening event impacting this state. I again would encourage my opponent to just subside with the politics. We'll have plenty enough room beyond this storm to compete between our ideas. What we need now is for the state to come together, to reduce our partisanship and to focus on this important storm impacting our state."
Politico reports the first ad aired by the Republican Party of Florida attacks Gillum's response during Hurricane Hermine (and has already been deemed "misleading" by PolitiFact) while the second ad calls Gillum "corrupt" in reference to the FBI probe of Tallahassee's government.
Orlando Weekly reached out to the DeSantis campaign and Florida GOP for a comment but did not receive an immediate response.
On Tuesday, when asked by the Tampa Bay Times about the appropriateness of running attack ads as the hurricane made its way to Florida, DeSantis told the newspaper, "It is what it is. We've had all this planned out long before and we're going to stick with our plan so people will see that unfold in the next day or two."
The DeSantis campaign worked with the state Republican Party on the negative ad, according to Politico, though referred the media organization to the Florida GOP for comment. The party has said it would take down the ads. Politico adds that the DeSantis campaign complained about a negative ad run by the Gillum campaign in Jacksonville, which is pretty far away from where the hurricane was projected to strike.
In a call organized by Democrats on Thursday, Dan Gelber Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas said partisan politics have traditionally been put aside in Florida during hurricanes.
"I think Floridians sort of expect a level of decency from their public officials and from people who want to be their public officials," Gelber said. "The idea that a political candidate, Mr. DeSantis, would air these false, insulting and frankly, contemptuously partisan ads … it's despicable. It's not a time to be opportunistic – it's a time to care."
Penelas, who says he helped manage the community's response during hurricanes affecting Miami-Dade County, said the day leading up to a major storm is "not the time to take advantage of captive audiences with negative ads that distract people from their primary focus, which should be their safety."
"There's clearly a time for politics and there's time to govern," he said. "People's lives are literally at risk. … If they need to evacuate, you want them to clearly receive those instructions from local officials and that's what Mayor Gillum is doing. He has put aside his campaign in order to focus on his primary responsibility at this time."
On Tuesday, Republicans criticized Democrats for playing "political games" on the eve of Hurricane Michael's landfall by filing a lawsuit to extend the voter registration deadline until Oct. 16 and sending fundraising emails based on that lawsuit.
"Gov. Scott's administration has already issued an order to keep voter registration open an extra day to accept paper registrations in the areas affected by the storm," RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement. "Only an organization that is playing politics with people's lives would ask for voter registration to be extended by a full week in this state’s most densely populated Democrat areas, almost nine hours and a time zone away."
But Gelber and Penelas argue that's not equivalent to running television attack ads between crucial weather updates. Although they are supporting Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in his re-election campaign, both men praised Gov. Rick Scott for not injecting partisanship during moments of crisis.
"This was a calculated decision by DeSantis to exploit people in their most vulnerable moments – Florida families who are glued to television looking for life-saving instruction," Gelber said. "Sending out a fundraising email from somewhere else doesn't interrupt somebody's life."