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Who will be Florida’s next governor and senator? Candidates face the final sprint

Florida’s governor’s race is one of the most watched in the country. It pits former congressman Ron DeSantis against Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee. The outgoing governor, Rick Scott, is challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. Close races are also unfolding in at least five congressional districts. Judy Woodruff reports on tough races up and down the Florida ballot.

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  • AMNA NAWAZ:

    We turn now to our special "NewsHour" coverage from Florida, and to Judy Woodruff.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thanks, Amna.

    The state of Florida is proving yet again to be a battleground in this year's midterm elections.

    From a contentious race for governor, to a neck-and-neck Senate contest, key races up and down the ballot could decide control of Congress and be an indicator for political contests to come.

    We begin our special coverage with a look at some of those important campaigns.

  • REP. RON DESANTIS:

    Higher taxes for you and more benefits for him. I don't think so.

  • MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM:

    We can do good by rowing together, you all.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Florida governor's race pits a self-styled conservative warrior against a progressive.

    Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is vying to be the state's first Democratic governor since 1992, and its first ever black chief executive. He is also a fierce critic of President Trump.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    He's going to your next governor, Ron DeSantis.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    By contrast, former Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis has fully embraced the president…

  • REP. RON DESANTIS:

    Make America great again.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … who won Florida by a razor-thin margin in 2016.

  • REP. RON DESANTIS:

    I appreciate your support Mr. President, but I appreciate more the leadership you are showing for our great country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The contest has been rife with allegations of racism.

    Just after winning the Republican nomination, DeSantis said this about Gillum:

  • REP. RON DESANTIS:

    The last thing we need to do is monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Racist robo-calls also targeted Gillum. DeSantis denounced the calls.

    But when I caught up with Gillum at a weekend rally at a Tampa community center, he said DeSantis had stoked racial tensions.

  • ANDREW GILLUM:

    I think certainly he used racial stereotypes in his campaigning all to make me look out of touch, so different than everybody else. I think he sorely underestimates the voters by going so hard after superficial differences, when what voters want to hear about is what we're going to do.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Meanwhile, Gillum is facing a corruption probe into unreported gifts from lobbyists, including a trip to Costa Rica and tickets to the Broadway show "Hamilton."

  • ANDREW GILLUM:

    I don't take free trips from anybody.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Gillum has denied the charges, but subpoenaed text messages suggest he knowingly accepted the show tickets from an FBI agent posing as a real estate developer. DeSantis calls it another example of local corruption.

  • REP. RON DESANTIS:

    Andrew is the one who lied to the people of Florida on Sunday night about accepting a gift from an undercover FBI agent. He's the one who lied.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The governorship is up for grabs because Republican incumbent Rick Scott is term-limited. He is moving on to challenge three-term Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson for his seat.

  • GOV. RICK SCOTT:

    He has been there when his party controlled both parties in the White House, and they did nothing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The two have sparred on immigration, gun violence especially after the Parkland Florida school shooting, and health care.

    Polls indicate a majority of Floridians favor Medicaid expansion, and that they're more likely to vote for a candidate who will maintain the Affordable Care Act's protections for people with preexisting conditions.

  • SEN. BILL NELSON:

    Florida has more on the ACA than anybody else, almost two million people that now have health care that never had health care before. And for the seven years of the law, my opponent has wanted to kill it, to repeal it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Nelson has blasted Scott for opposing Medicaid expansion and Obamacare. The state is also suing to overturn federal protections for those with preexisting conditions. Scott says he didn't have anything to do with the suit.

  • GOV. RICK SCOTT:

    I support forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In a new ad, he said he now favors coverage of preexisting conditions.

    And DeSantis has recently pledged to do the same.

    The Florida ballot also features close races in at least five congressional districts held by Republicans and for the Republican-controlled state Senate. Also driving voters to the polls, a state constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to 1.5 million former felons.

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