MIAMI (AP) – U.S. Representative Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida governor on Tuesday, putting him in a position to challenge Chief Executive Ron DeSantis this fall in a campaign the Republican incumbent president sees as the first step toward a potential White House campaign.
In selecting Crist, Florida Democrats sided with a candidate supported by many in the party’s establishment who considered him the safest choice, even after losing his previous two statewide elections. The 66-year-old served one term as Republican governor more than a decade ago before becoming a Democrat. His moderate stances could appeal to voters in Florida’s teeming suburbs as Democrats seek to reverse a loss-making pattern in a state recently viewed as a perpetual political battleground.
Ultimately, though, the Democratic contest centered on DeSantis, whose allies see his re-election in November as a springboard into the 2024 presidential contest. He emerged 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 eagerness to lean on 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.
“Tonight, the people of Florida have clearly sent a message: they want a governor who cares about them and solves real problems, preserves our freedom, not a bully who divides us and takes our freedom away,” said Crist, who declined to use DeSantis’. name. “This man wants to be president of the United States of America and everyone knows it. However, if we beat them on November 8, that show is over. Enough.”
Crist won the Democratic nomination over Nikki Fried, the state agriculture commissioner. She mounted a more progressive campaign and was especially vocal in defending abortion and LGBTQ rights. The 44-year-old self-proclaimed “something new” and hoped to become Florida’s first female governor. A sign of the party’s meager status in Florida, she is currently the only Democrat to hold office statewide.
Fried said she called Crist to congratulate him on his win and asked her supporters to come together to support the Democratic candidate.
“We’re going to make Ronald DeSantis a one-term governor and a one-term president of the United States,” she said.
The Florida contest concludes this year’s busiest run of primaries, with contests in 18 states spanning just 22 days. During that time, Republicans from Arizona to Alaska have backed contenders embracing Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim that was roundly rejected by election officials, the former president’s attorney general. and judges he has appointed.
And for the most part, Democrats have avoided brutal primary fights — with a few exceptions. New York voters decided to hold congressional primaries on Tuesday night with two powerful Democratic committee chairs, Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, competing for the same seat and other incumbent officials fending off challenges from the left.
Democrats are entering the final weeks before the midterm elections with a sense of cautious optimism, hoping the Supreme Court decision will overturn a woman’s constitutional right to abortion will strengthen the party’s base. But Democrats still face huge headwinds, including economic uncertainty and the historic reality that most parties lose seats in the first midterm after winning the White House.
The dynamics are especially challenging for Democrats in Florida, one of the most politically divided states in the US. The last three races for governor were decided by 1 percentage point or less. But the state has steadily become more favorable to Republicans 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 acts as the only Democrat in the entire office. And Republicans have no primary competition for four of those five positions — governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general and chief financial officer — all of which are held by incumbent GOPs.
The US Rep. Val Demings easily won the Democratic nomination this fall to challenge Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Demings, a former police chief and a great political fundraiser, has a chance to become Florida’s first black female senator.
While some Democrats are hopeful that Demings Rubio, the party’s national leadership is prioritizing competitive Senate games in other states, including neighboring Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Demings was optimistic as she pondered her unlikely life story in front of a crowd of cheering supporters.
“Together, I truly believe that this daughter of a maid and janitor who is not supposed to be here tonight — I truly believe we can do anything together,” she said.
In Florida’s governor’s race, the Supreme Court’s abortion decision marked the final weeks of the Democratic primary.
Promoted himself as the one and only abortion rights proponent in the race, Fried seized on Crist’s appointment of two conservative Supreme Court justices while he was governor.
The conservative court will soon decide whether the Republican-backed state law banning abortion 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 avoid serious injury, or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow exemptions in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking.
Crist insisted he’s “for choice” and highlighted a bill he rejected as governor in 2010 that would require women who wanted to have a first-trimester abortion to get and pay for an ultrasound exam. .
“It’s a woman’s right to choose,” Crist told the AP. “My record is crystal clear. And for my opponent to try to cloud that is unscrupulous, dishonest and unwise.”
Meanwhile, Trump protégé Rep. Matt Gaetz is running for Republican primary in his Florida Panhandle district, despite a federal investigation into a sex trafficking case. Gaetz defeated GOP challenger Mark Lombardo, a former Marine and executive at FedEx, and is much more likely to win a fourth term in November.
Peoples reported from Washington, Farrington from Tallahassee. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee and Marc Levy in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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