St. Petersburg, Florida
To take on the mammoth task of challenging Republican administration Ron DeSantis this fall, the Florida Democrats are going with someone familiar on “something new.”
For the second time in eight years, Democratic voters will choose Charlie Crist as their nominee for governor, CNN Projects, choosing the seasoned veteran over Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who competed to become the state’s first female governor. Crist now has just 11 weeks to unite his party, revive the Democratic base and convince independent voters that the state needs a new direction.
Much is at stake for Democrats, and not just in Florida, where DeSantis has already pursued an aggressively conservative agenda and vowed that a second term will bring more restrictions on abortion and less on guns. National Democrats are also looking for Crist to delay DeSantis, one of the Republican Party’s most recognizable figures, ahead of an expected 2024 White House campaign.
“This man wants to be president of the United States of America,” Crist said in his victory speech. “But if we beat him on November 8, that show is over.”
The task will not be easy. DeSantis has raised $132 million for the fall general election, a record amount for a self-funded governor candidate, and has animated the Republican base more than any GOP politician not named Donald Trump. His party surpassed Democrats in registered voters in Florida for the first time. And he can point to a state economy that appears to be thriving, with more people moving to the state than anywhere else in the country, record tourism numbers and an unemployment rate of 2.7% — almost a full point below the federal level.
But Democrats have argued that wealth is not shared by everyone. With some of the fastest rising home prices and rents in the country, Florida has become a paradise that many can no longer afford. A real estate insurance crisis has threatened coverage for millions of homeowners just as hurricane season is reaching its peak. LGBTQ Floridians say the DeSantis administration has made the state more hostile, while some women say new restrictions on abortion are eliminating choice over their bodies and potentially forcing them to endure medically risky pregnancies.
Crist’s argument against another four years of DeSantis is also based on Floridians longing for a less divisive tone from their leader. During the Democratic primary, Crist and Fried portrayed DeSantis as a bully and despot who is much more focused on positioning themselves to run for the White House than on running the country’s third-largest state. Time and again, they have noted, DeSantis has forced the other branches of government to bend to his will, eliminating any control over his executive branch.
Earlier Tuesday, DeSantis predicted he would meet Crist in the general election. At a news conference in Tallahassee, he dismissed Crist as “a man who’s been a candidate for five decades, who votes with (Joe) Biden 100% of the time,” and made it clear that he’s planning the race around his controversial coronavirus pandemic. response.
Crist, he said, “opposes every decision I have made to keep this state open, preserve people’s rights, respect their rights, save jobs, keep children in school and save businesses.”
At his St. Petersburg waiting party, Crist didn’t have to wait long for good news. By the time his campaign welcomed supporters to the Hilton conference room, just after polls closed at 7 p.m., early voting results strongly suggested it would be a drama-free evening. The crowd erupted into cheers as a big screen showed an overwhelmingly promising start to the count for Crist.
View the full results in Florida here.
By choosing Crist, Democrats are betting that a well-known and innocent candidate will give them the best chance of defeating a divisive but dynamic incumbent Republican. It is a playbook nearly identical to the one Biden successfully used to defeat Trump in 2020.
‘I knew him. I met him. I trust him,” Darla Price, a St. Petersburg retiree, told CNN after voting for Crist.
However, Biden’s blueprint didn’t work in Florida in particular. Trump won the state in 2020 by a larger margin than in 2016. Crist himself has not won a general election in Florida in 16 years, although he has tried repeatedly.
For Crist, 66, Tuesday’s win is a new chapter in one of the most unusual careers in American politics.
After serving as a Republican for decades as a state legislator, education commissioner, attorney general, and reaching the office of governor in 2007, Crist fell out of favor with his party for committing the mortal sin of embracing a Democratic president, Barack Obama. . He was defeated by Marco Rubio in a 2010 Republican primary for the Senate, then lost as an independent in the general election.
But four years later, he re-emerged as the Democratic candidate to take on his successor, the then government. Rick Schot. Crist fell 64,000 votes short of winning his old job back. In 2016, he then turned his attention to the United States House of Representatives and was elected a Democrat three times to represent his home in Pinellas County.
Many expected Crist’s career in Congress to end. Instead, he jumped in the running for governor last May — a decision at the time panned by many Democratic officials and agents in Florida as a relic of the past for a party that needed to look ahead. Fried, a 44-year-old who had only one previous campaign to her name, leaned into the comparison to Crist and campaigned on the phrase “Something New.”
But as Fried struggled to defend her candidacy, Crist’s campaign gained traction. He built a coalition of supporters across the state and all factions of the party: unions, environmental groups, black faith leaders, prominent women leaders and elected officials of all levels. Popular Democratic lawmakers such as state representative Anna Eskamani and state senator Shevrin Jones, who were initially dismissive of Crist, supported him over Fried.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to scrap the constitutional right to abortion provided Fried with a sort of reset. She tried to reframe the race around protecting access to abortion and suggested that Crist, who once called himself “pro-life,” couldn’t bring that fight to DeSantis.
Most primary voters were ultimately unconvinced.
Shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m. in the Florida Panhandle, Fried told her supporters in Fort Lauderdale that she called Crist to congratulate him on winning the nomination. She clearly hinted that this is not the end of her time in the Florida political arena.
“No one ever broke a glass ceiling on the first pitch,” Fried said.