MIAMI (AP) — U.S. Representative Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida on Tuesday, setting him up to challenge Governor Ron DeSantis this fall in a campaign the incumbent Republican sees as the first step toward an eventual run for the White House.
In choosing Crist, Florida Democrats sided with a candidate backed by many in the party establishment who saw him as the safest choice, even after losing his previous two nationwide elections. of State. The 66-year-old moderate, who served as Republican governor of Florida a decade ago, hopes to appeal to voters in Florida’s teeming suburbs as Democrats seek to reverse a losing streak in a state that was recently seen as a battleground. eternal political battle.
Crucially, the Democratic contest centered on DeSantis, who views his November re-election as a potential stepping stone to the 2024 presidential contest. Given the stakes, Democrats in Florida and elsewhere expressed a real sense of urgency to blunt DeSantis momentum.
Crist decried DeSantis as an “abusive” and “dangerous” “bully” in his victory speech.
“Tonight, the people of Florida sent a clear message: they want a governor who cares about them and solves real problems, preserves our freedom, not a tyrant who divides us and robs us of our freedom,” said Christ. “This guy wants to be President of the United States of America and everyone knows that. However, when we defeat him on November 8, that show is over. Enough.”
Crist won the Democratic nomination against Nikki Fried, state agriculture commissioner. She launched a more progressive campaign and was particularly vocal in advocating for abortion and LGBTQ rights. The 44-year-old branded herself as “something new” and hoped 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.
“We’re going to make Ronald DeSantis a one-term governor and a zero-term president of the United States,” she conceded Tuesday, calling on her supporters to unite behind Crist.
DeSantis won his first election by less than half a percentage point, but quickly became 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. .
From a raucous ballroom in Miami on Tuesday night, a fiery DeSantis refused to say Crist’s name and instead cast the general election as a contest against President Joe Biden and “wake up” ideology.
“We will never make it to the woke agenda,” DeSantis charged. “Florida is a state where the revival is going to die.”
The Florida contest concludes the busiest series of primaries this year, which included contests in 18 states over just 22 days. During that time, Republicans from Arizona to Alaska backed candidates who embraced Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim flatly denied by election officials, the former president Attorney General and the judges he has appointed.
And for the most part, Democrats have avoided brutal primary fights — with a few exceptions.
New York Democrats chose Jerry Nadler over Carolyn Maloney on Tuesday in a congressional primary that featured two powerful House committee chairs vying for the same seat. North of town, U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the Democratic Party’s congressional campaign leader, won a tough primary battle against a more progressive state senator.
Not far away in upstate New York, Democrats celebrated County Executive Pat Ryan’s victory in a special election to fill the remainder of Democrat Anthony Delgado’s term. Delgado left Congress to become Lieutenant Governor of New York.
Republicans were hoping to reverse the swing district, which becomes a further sign that the red wave many officers expect this fall may be weakening.
Indeed, Democrats approach the final weeks before the midterm elections 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.
US Representative Val Demings easily won the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Senator Marco Rubio this fall. Demings, a former police chief and prodigious political fundraiser, has a shot at becoming Florida’s first black female senator.
While some Democrats hope that Deming may unseat Rubio, the party’s national leadership is prioritizing competitive senatorial contests in other states, including neighboring Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Demings was optimistic as she reflected on her unlikely life story in front of a crowd of cheering fans.
“Together I truly believe that this daughter of a cleaner and a janitor who isn’t supposed to be here tonight – I truly believe that together we can do anything,” she said. .
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 vowed Tuesday night to make abortion rights a priority.
“On day one of my administration, I will sign an executive order protecting a woman’s right to choose,” he said.
Elsewhere in Florida, Trump protege Rep. Matt Gaetz won his Republican primary in his Florida Panhandle district while he was under federal investigation in a sex trafficking case. Gaetz is heavily favored to win a fourth term in November.
Florida is unlikely to be among the most competitive states this fall given its shift to the right, but it could be the most expensive.
Crist has raised $14 million so far this election cycle, nearly twice as much as Fried. But he comes up against a fundraising giant. DeSantis’ political operation has already raised more than $165 million since taking office, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He is set to break the record for the most money ever raised by a gubernatorial candidate.
“Don’t let anyone tell you it’s going to be easy. In the next two and a half months, they’re going to throw everything they’ve got at us,” DeSantis said. He added: “I was elected less than four years ago, but we’re only just starting to warm up.”
People reported from Washington, Farrington from Tallahassee. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg and Marc Levy in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.