Florida GOP candidate Ron DeSantis keeps airing attack ads during Hurricane Michael

Democrat Andrew Gillum has suspended his campaign while portions of the state are devastated; his opponent hasn't

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 12, 2018 7:30AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis; Andrew Gillum (AP/Lynne Sladky/Steve Cannon)
Ron DeSantis; Andrew Gillum (AP/Lynne Sladky/Steve Cannon)

Republican Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis aired attack ads against his Democratic opponent as Hurricane Michael barreled toward the state.

His Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, completely suspended his campaign ahead of the storm to focus on the hurricane response. Tallahassee was among the cities in Michael's path, though it avoided some of the devastation that hit surrounding areas.

It's a general taboo to air attack ads during a hurricane or other natural disaster, though there's been no shortage of them in Florida. Both Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott had attack ads aired by PACs supporting their campaigns, though under federal law the campaigns are forbidden from coordinating with the groups. DeSantis, on the other hand, does not have the same restrictions under state law and coordinated the attack ads with the state's Republican Party, Politico reports.

“Gillum turned away workers who would have restored our power,” a DeSantis supporter says in one ad about the hurricane recovery in 2016. “It was devastating. Pure politics.”

Another ad shows a DeSantis supporter claim that Gillum “failed us” because “after the hurricane, we had no electricity for a week.”

Gillum criticized the ads before the state Republican Party said it would stop airing the ads.

“We can’t recall a time where candidates for statewide office have not pulled down negative ads during hurricane season,” Gillum said in an interview with MSNBC. “You’ve 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.”

DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times that there was nothing inappropriate about the ad. 

"You run your campaign the way you run your campaign. It is what it is," he said. "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."

Former Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate, who was also the Florida Emergency Management director, urged “all Florida candidates” to stop airing such ads and help raise money for the relief effort instead.

The hurricane politics did not stop with DeSantis' attack ads, however. The Florida Democratic Party sued the state to extend Tuesday's voter registration deadline by a week because of the hurricane, arguing that not to do so violated the 1st and 14th Amendments.

"Although the Secretary [of State] has proposed a single-day registration extension in some counties to accommodate a subset of voters affected by Hurricane Michael, his 'solution' is insufficient and confusing,” the suit said. “It does not adequately protect the voting rights of Florida citizens who cannot register to vote by the October 9 registration deadline."

A federal judge rejected the request Thursday.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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