MIAMI (AP) – Government of Florida. Ron DeSantis is set to learn the identity of his general election opponent on Tuesday as Democrats choose between a man who has spent his life in politics — largely as a Republican — and a woman who is running as “somebody.” something new” as she searches for her resurgent grassroots party energy.
The Democratic establishment has largely fallen behind charlie christ, a 66-year-old Democratic congressman who served as Republican governor of the state more than a decade ago. Now standing as a moderate Democrat, Crist takes on the 44-year-old agriculture commissioner Fried Nikkiwho hopes to become the state’s first female governor while leaning into the fight for abortion rights.
The race is ultimately a debate over who is best positioned to defeat DeSantis, who rose from a narrow victory four years ago to become one of the most prominent Republicans in politics. His relatively light touch in the face of the pandemic and his willingness to address divides over race, gender and LGBTQ rights have resonated with many Republican voters who view DeSantis as a natural heir to the former President Donald Trump.
His re-election effort is widely speculated to be a precursor to a presidential race in 2024, adding to a sense of urgency among Democrats to blunt his rise now.
“I was in the trenches. I faced DeSantis,” Fried told The Associated Press. DeSantis “won’t have a 2024 because he won’t have a 2022. We’re going to beat him in November and we’re going to kill all his aspirations to run for president of the United States.”
Crist, in an interview, described DeSantis as a threat to democracy.
“It is the opposite of freedom. He’s an autocrat. He’s a demagogue. And I think people are sick of him,” Crist said of the incumbent Republican governor, noting that DeSantis earlier this year berated a group of high school students for wearing face masks during a indoor press conference. “Who is this guy? Who does he think he is? He’s not the boss.”
The Florida contest concludes the busiest streak of the primaries this year. Republicans from Pennsylvania to Arizona backed candidates who embraced Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim flatly denied by election officials, the former president’s attorney general and the judges he has appointed.
And for the most part, Democrats have avoided brutal primary fights. That could be tested on Tuesday, however, as voters in New York take part in the Congressional primaries that feature two powerful Democratic committee chairs, Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, competing for the same seat and other incumbents pushing back against the challenges from the left.
Democrats approach the final weeks before the midterms with cautious optimism, hoping Supreme Court ruling overturning a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion energize the base of the party. 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.
Democrats hope U.S. Rep. Val Demingswho faces a little-known candidate in his Senate primary on Tuesday, may unseat the state’s senior U.S. senator, the Republican blonde frame, this autumn. 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 file is clear. And for my adversary, trying to confuse things is unacceptable, unfair and reckless.
In terms of experience and personality, voters have a stark contrast between Crist, a longtime establishment-backed politician seen as a relatively safe choice, and Fried, a new face who may be in a better position to stand up. ignite with the party’s most passionate voters.
Crist has raised $14 million so far this election cycle, nearly twice as much money as Fried. Having held elected office since 1992, his supporters describe him as a dependable and kind man with an excellent memory.
“He is the best retail politician in Florida in this century. He’s just an outstanding politician. He asks about my grandchildren by name,” said Mac Stipanovich, a political strategist who served as former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez’s chief of staff.
Meanwhile, Fried has gained twice as many followers across all social networks and is quickly jumping on trends online. She has built her profile as one of DeSantis’ fiercest opponents, regularly challenging him on politics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also created a position within her department to ensure LGBTQ members have opportunities as DeSantis carries out what the Human Rights Campaign recently described as “an assault on transgender Floridians.”
DeSantis signed into law what opponents called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that bans classes on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and restricts them in higher grades. He also defended the ‘stop WOKE law’ which restricts race-based conversation and analysis in business and education, although a Florida judge ruled last week that the law was an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech.
Such issues have been good for DeSantis’ standing with GOP voters.
The Florida governor touted his record during a weekend rally with more than 1,000 Pennsylvania voters, having already recently campaigned for Republican allies in Arizona, New Mexico and Ohio.
DeSantis was officially in Pennsylvania to help GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. But DeSantis barely mentioned Mastriano’s name in his remarks to his Pittsburgh audience and instead focused on the political battles he fought in Florida to confront liberal “woke ideology.”
He did not mention that he was running for re-election as governor this year.
“If you lead and lead with strength and courage, and you get results, people will be with you,” DeSantis said.
People reported from Washington, Farrington from Tallahassee. Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.