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Republican candidates for governor get in dust-up over Clearwater 'stand your ground' shooting

DeSantis, left and Putnam, right. [Times]

One day before the second (and final) debate between the two Republican candidates for Florida governor, they are pitted against each other over their positions on the recent killing of Markeis McGlockton — Florida's latest 'stand your ground' shooting.

Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam tweeted a statement defending Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri over his handling of the July 19 shooting, saying "the state attorney and Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri have far more information on what took place in Clearwater."

"No wonder (zero) Florida sheriffs have endorsed him," he added in the body of the tweet, referring to his opponent, Congressman Ron DeSantis. Putnam has been endorsed by close to 50 sheriffs.

Then Putnam added an image to the tweet thread, portraying DeSantis on the same "side" as all five Democratic candidates for governor, as well as the national civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton came to Clearwater on Sunday to speak at St. John Primitive Baptist Church, where he accused Gualtieri and the state attorney of mishandling the case because of racial bias.

McGlockton, 28, was black and his shooter, 47-year-old Michael Drejka is white.

That's because DeSantis weighed in on the shooting on Monday in a statement that expressed his support for Florida's controversial law, which grants immunity to people who use force in self-defense if they fear for their lives. DeSantis, a military lawyer, also said Gualtieri had not "analyzed the law properly," and that the "stand your ground" law does not apply in this case.

Read more: Ron DeSantis adds to criticism of Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri over ‘stand your ground’

It was widely thought by Republican insiders that this primary would get ugly. Tuesday was an example of that bitterness that is likely to persist until the primary on Aug. 28.

The July shooting happened during a heated dispute over a handicap-reserved parking space at a convenience store in Clearwater. Surveillance footage shows McGlockton shoving Drejka, who had been berating McGlockton's girlfriend over her use of the parking space. While on the ground, Drejka pulls out a gun and shoots McGlockton, who died shortly thereafter.

Gualtieri has been widely criticized for his decision not to arrest Drejka, citing the "stand your ground" law. Gualtieri's office has forwarded the case to the state attorney for review and it is still pending.

But DeSantis's position is shared by the National Rifle Association and some other Republicans. It's true that both McGlockton's family and Democrats have also criticized the handling of the case, but those candidates have also called for repealing the self-defense law altogether — which DeSantis opposes.

David Vasquez, spokesman for DeSantis's campaign, released a caustic statement on Putnam's tweet.

"Facing the end of his political career, Adam Putnam is no longer supporting the principles or the party that have done so much for him," Vasquez said. "He's committed to throwing away the last of his integrity on desperate, baseless lies that Floridians will remember him for."

Even conservative Parkland student Kyle Kashuv weighed in on Twitter, calling Putnam a "hack politician" who is "lying for a desperate, last second, attempt at not being embarrased in the polls."