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Florida Democrats put on a debate fit for a wrestling ring

Dem candidates

Getting hammered left and right by his opponents, Philip Levine raised his arms by his sides and played the role of the wrestling heel.

"Boy, it's sure fun to be the frontrunner," he said, as boos rained down.

It was a testy affair Saturday night as four of the five Democrats running for Florida governor battled in a Pinellas County high school auditorium during a live televised debate. Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former congresswoman Gwen Graham and affordable housing investor Chris King sparred for an hour, with real estate tycoon Jeff Greene perhaps glad that he sat this one out.

For-profit charter schools, the National Rifle Association and Donald Trump played the villains for much of the night. But the moderators forced the candidates to answer questions about an FBI investigation in Tallahassee, a cash contribution to a Republican Senator, and a vote for increased restrictions on Syrian refugees entering the country.

And with the Aug. 28 primary inching closer, the candidates attacked each other, too, over their voting records and character.

Levine — who's ahead in the polls — may have gotten the worst of it.

Asked to defend his Democratic bona fides after once considering a run as an independent and giving $2,400 to the 2010 U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Marco Rubio, Levine said he's probably given $1 million all told to other Democrats and evoked his record as mayor.

"I raised the minimum living wage in the city of Miami Beach. I plan to do it statewide. We actually decriminalized marijuana," he said. "We became the leading poster child on sea-level rise and climate change and we banned assault rifles. So the question is, am I a Democrat? I’m a Democrat. I’m proud to be a Democrat."

But his opponents pounced.

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