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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.

DeSantis, Gillum Target Pinellas County As Election Nears

Both candidates for governor took aim at Pinellas County over the weekend, as it's considered one of the key battlegrounds to taking the governor’s mansion.

Credit Daylina Miller / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Selfie time with Andrew Gillum in St. Petersburg

Saturday morning started rather quietly at the Saint Nicholas Community Center in Tarpon Springs.

As about 150 people sat around tables, sipping coffee and eating donuts, Nick DeCeglie, a Republican running for state House in northern Pinellas, told them how important they are.

"Every two years, Pinellas County leads the way as the anchor of the I-4 corridor," he said. "As the anchor of every single statewide election in this great state, we cannot sit and wait and watch other people do our work. We need to get out there and vote."

The scene remained somewhat subdued until Ron DeSantis took the stage.

The Republican represented northeast Florida in Congress, but was raised in Dunedin. He billed this as a “hometown rally.”

"Great to be back in Pinellas County," he said. "I hope in the remaining days of the campaign to have God on my side. But I must have Pinellas County on my side."

DeSantis then played up his law-and-order bonafides, saying Democrat Andrew Gillum is sure to be tainted by an ongoing FBI investigation into the city of Tallahassee’s administration - although no evidence has connected it to Gillum.

Speaking to reporters afterward, he talked about Gillum getting upset that he called him by his first name at their most recent debate.

"He called me a dog at the debate," he said. "So what, he has his own standard and I have a different standard? Is there a double standard here? Ok, fine. Crooked Mayor Gillum. How ‘bout that? He took bribes. He was wrong. How about Failed Mayor Gillum?"

Bill Hardy of Palm Harbor said he’d rather focus on the issues.

"The issues that resonate with me is that law enforcement is very important," he said after DeSantis' speech. "The caravan that’s coming is very important. If Gillum had his way, there’d be no borders. They’d come rushing right through like there was nothing there. There’d be no ICE. There’d be no protection for anybody."

Two hours later and 20 miles to the south, Andrew Gillum’s campaign bus pulled up to a very different scene in south St. Petersburg.

There, it was about the same size crowd that greeted DeSantis. But the mood was more festive, with a band playing, hot dogs and chicken on the grill, and people milling around a converted parking lot. They were eager to hear from Gillum, who said that’s he’s also on the minds of Republicans.

"Every time when they’ve been given an opportunity, they only seem to want to talk about me," Gillum told the crowd. "Well, that’s what happens when you don’t have a vision."

Gillum noted that the last two races for governor were decided by less than one percent of the vote.

"We can’t win this races on Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and complaining about what’s wrong. We win these races by getting out there and voting like our lives depend on it," he said. 

Mae McRae of St. Petersburg said she’s seeing a lot of energy from people she talks to, saying people are ready for a change.

"His honesty, his confidence, his compassion for the people and the state, for the country. All of that strikes me. That’s what I’m looking for in a leader. And that’s what we’ve not seen for quite some time," she said after his speech.

Pinellas County went for President Trump by only 5,000 votes in 2016. We’ll soon find out which way this bellwether county will swing on November 6.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.