MIAMI (AP) — U.S. Representative Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida on Tuesday, putting him in a position to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis this fall in a campaign the incumbent Republican sees as the first step toward a white potential House managed.
In choosing Crist, Florida Democrats sided with a candidate supported by many in the party establishment who saw him as the safest choice. The 66-year-old has already served one term as governor, running as a Republican at the time before turning to Democrats. His moderate stances could appeal to voters in teeming Florida suburbs as Democrats seek to reverse a losing streak in a state that was once seen as a perennial political battleground.
FOLLOW LIVE: 2022 Florida Primary Election Results
Crist defeated Nikki Fried, the state agriculture commissioner. She launched a more progressive campaign and was particularly vocal in advocating for abortion and LGBTQ rights. The 44-year-old was hoping to compete to become Florida’s first female governor. A sign of the party’s meager reputation in Florida, she is currently the only Democrat to hold statewide office.
But the race ultimately centered on the political future of DeSantis, who rose from a narrow victory four years ago to become one of the most prominent figures in GOP politics. His hands-off approach to the pandemic and willingness to address divisions over race, gender and LGBTQ rights have resonated with many Republican voters who see DeSantis as a natural heir to former President Donald Trump. .
DeSantis’ re-election effort is widely speculated to be a precursor to a presidential race in 2024, adding to the sense of urgency among Democrats to blunt his rise now.
The Florida contest concludes the busiest streak of the primaries this year. During the nominating process, Republicans from Pennsylvania to Alaska backed candidates who embraced Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim flatly denied by election officials, the former prosecutor general of the former president and the judges he has appointed.
And for the most part, Democrats have avoided brutal primary fights — with a few exceptions. New York voters on Tuesday night decided on congressional primaries that featured two powerful Democratic committee chairs, Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, competing for the same seat and other incumbents fending off challenges from the left.
Democrats approach the final weeks before the midterms with cautious optimism, hoping that the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion will energize the party base. But Democrats still face huge headwinds, including economic uncertainty and the historical reality that most parties lose seats in the first half after winning the White House.
The dynamic is particularly difficult for Democrats in Florida, one of the most politically divided states in the United States. His last three gubernatorial races have been decided by 1 percentage point or less. But the state has become increasingly Republican-friendly in recent years.
For the first time in modern history, Florida has more registered Republicans — nearly 5.2 million — than Democrats, who have nearly 5 million registered voters. Fried is the only Democrat to hold statewide office. And Republicans don’t have a primary contest for four of those five positions — governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general and chief financial officer — all of which are held by GOP incumbents.
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Democrats hope U.S. Representative Val Demings, who defeated a little-known candidate in her Senate primary on Tuesday, can unseat the state’s top U.S. senator, Republican Marco Rubio, this fall. But for now, the party’s national leadership is prioritizing competitive senatorial contests in other states, including neighboring Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
In the race for governors of Florida, the Supreme Court’s abortion decision animated the last weeks of the Democratic primary.
Fried has cast herself as the only real proponent of abortion rights in the race, seizing on Crist’s nomination of two conservative Supreme Court justices while he was governor.
The conservative-leaning court will soon decide whether the Republican-backed state legislature’s law to ban abortions after 15 weeks is constitutional. Florida’s new abortion law is in effect, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, to prevent serious injury, or if the fetus has a life-threatening abnormality. It does not allow exemptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.
Crist insisted he was ‘pro-choice’ and pointed to a bill he vetoed as governor in 2010 that would have required women seeking first-trimester abortions to obtain and pay an ultrasound.
“It’s a woman’s right to choose,” Crist told the AP. “My case is crystal clear. And for my opponent to try to confuse things is inadmissible, unfair and reckless.
DeSantis and Fried spent several hours together Tuesday morning during a cabinet meeting at the Statehouse in Tallahassee. They kept things cordial during the hour-long event, which kept Fried seats away from the governor as they heard reports from agency heads on state finances, contracts and other matters. .
DeSantis shook Fried’s hand at the end of the meeting and said “good luck” before criticizing his campaign and predicting his loss in brief remarks to reporters.
“I think you know she’s had an opportunity, as the only elected Democrat in the entire state, to exercise some leadership and maybe get some things done. Instead, she has used her time to try to smear me on a daily basis, that’s all she does,” DeSantis says of Fried.
After the meeting, Fried told reporters she believed the governor planned the meeting as a way to sideline her on her final day of campaigning.
“Of course it’s no coincidence,” she said of the timing of the reunion. “I think he’s scared I’ll win tonight so he’s doing everything in his power to keep me away from the campaign trail today.”
People reported from Washington, Farrington from Tallahassee. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee and Marc Levy in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.