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Putnam and DeSantis Trade Blows in Final Debate Before Republican Primary

Florida House/U.S. House

The two GOP candidates running for governor faced off in their second – and final – debate Wednesday before the Republican primary.

Just hours before the debate, news broke that U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’ lead over Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had jumped from 11 points to 20 in recent polls.

With that widening gap between the two, Putnam fought to regain some of the ground he’s lost since President Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis – beginning with his opening statement.

“It has felt a lot like I’m running against the ‘Seinfeld’ candidate," Putnam said. "The campaign is being run out of a studio. They have a smattering of celebrity guest appearances, and at the end of the day, it’s all about nothing.”

Tensions ran high through the hour, coming to a head on the topic of water quality issues facing both coasts. The algal blooms are often blamed on the east and westward water releases from Lake Okeechobee, which DeSantis argues head in those directions because of special interests Putnam benefits from.

“Look, you know, Adam is basically the errand boy for U.S. Sugar,” DeSantis said.

The two did not agree about Florida’s hotly debated Stand Your Ground law either. Putnam criticized DeSantis for not standing behind Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s recent decision to not charge a white man who shot an unarmed black man in a Clearwater convenience store parking lot in a confrontation over a disabled parking spot. Gualtieri said it was a case of someone meeting force with force and, thus, did not warrant charges.

DeSantis said he will stand by Stand Your Ground, but:

“I don’t want some of these instances that don’t really involve that to be put in and end up being fodder for criticism,” he said.

On the broader issue of safety and gun rights, the two candidates mainly agreed with one another and their party’s stances – arguing that insufficient school security and not paying enough attention to red flags, as in the case of confessed Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, is to blame for gun violence, not the weapons themselves.

The Republican primary is less than three weeks away on August 28th.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.