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Read our current and previous coverage of the 2018 election season as you prepare to cast your ballot. You'll find information on important races, explanations of constitutional amendments and details of local referendums.

U.S. Ag Secretary Gives Last-Minute Boost To Ron DeSantis, Republicans In Lakeland

Sonny Perdue, head of the USDA, traveled from Washington D.C. from Lakeland on Saturday to encourage Polk County residents to vote for Republican Ron DeSantis in the governor's race.

With John Deere tractors and country music greeting supporters, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis made a last-minute appeal to the rural and suburban voters of Polk County on Saturday.

DeSantis outlined his plan for a low-tax, pro-business Florida. He criticized what he calls the "radical socialist agenda" of his Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who has vowed to raise taxes on large corporations. He was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who is a former Republican Governor of Georgia.

Perdue urged voters to make what he called the right choice between those two competing visions.

"If I was still governor of Georgia, selfishly, I'd say go ahead Florida, elect Gillum," Perdue said. "Because we compete for all those jobs and they'll be coming to Georgia rather than to Florida like they have been."

Opening up for DeSantis were other Republican nominees for statewide office: Ashley Moody, who is running for attorney general, and Matt Caldwell, who is running to be Florida's agriculture commissioner. Both championed DeSantis as a leader who is tough on crime, but easy on government regulation and taxation.

Caldwell told the audience that the shared values of the Republican candidates for statewide office will help Florida continue its recovery from the 2008 recession.

"The things we were dealing with in unemployment, the jobs situation, just absolutely terrible," he said. "We have been on a record run in the last 10 years and we don't want to stop that. We don't want get off track with that. We have got a ticket on the Republican side that understands that."

Gillum briefly suspended campaigning Friday night to return to Tallahassee after agunman opened fire on a yoga studio killing two people and himself. But on Saturday afternoon, he traveled to nearby Orlando for a rally at The University of Central Florida with the rapper Common and Democratic leaders. He also appeared in South Florida, where musician Jimmy Buffett held a free concert for Democratic candidates.

DeSantis attacked Gillum for receiving an endorsement from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and appearing alongside Sanders at rallies in Tampa and Orlando back in September. DeSantis said both want to institute the "George Soros-funded social experiment" of a single-payer healthcare system and the pair are "so socialist they would make [Venezuelan President] Nicolas Maduro blush."

DeSantis lauded the work of Gov. Rick Scott in attracting more jobs to Florida, and warned that a vote for Gillum would disrupt that momentum. Those at the rally seemed to share his support for the status quo when it comes to the economy.

Jeremy Bennett, a public school teacher from Lakeland, said he will vote for DeSantis despite Gillum's proposal to dramatically increase teacher pay - using corportate tax money. Bennett said getting out of the way of businesses has been a driving force for growth in Downtown Lakeland, and keeping that going is more important to him than a wage increase.

"DeSantis, to me, doesn't want to change things," Bennett said. “He wants to encourage businesses to come in and that actually helps our schools. Florida is not a broken state, and this is not a broken town or a broken county. Why would we want to change it drastically? There is nothing to fix."

As of Saturday, nearly 4.5 million Floridians had already voted early or sent in mail-in ballots, with Republicans leading Democrats by about 58,000 returns.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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