Who is going to challenge DeSantis in Florida: Charlie Crist vs. the 44-year-old Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried

MIAMI, Florida — On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will learn who his general election opponent will be. Democrats will choose between a man who has spent a lifetime in politics — the majority of it as a Republican — and a woman who portrays herself as “something new” while seeking the support of her party’s resurgent base.

The majority of the Democratic establishment has backed Charlie Crist, a 66-year-old Democratic congressman who served as the state’s Republican governor for nearly a decade. Crist, who is now running as a moderate Democrat, against Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, 44, who aims to become the state’s first female governor while championing abortion rights.

The race is ultimately a battle over who is best positioned to oppose DeSantis, who has become one of the most prominent Republicans in politics since his tight victory four years ago. Many Republican voters consider DeSantis as a natural successor to former President Donald Trump due to his relatively light touch in addressing the pandemic and his willingness to lean into racial, gender, and LGBTQ rights issues.

His reelection campaign is largely seen to be a forerunner to a presidential candidacy in 2024, heightening Democrats’ feeling of urgency to combat his ascent now.

“I have been in the trenches. I have taken on DeSantis,” Fried told The Associated Press. DeSantis “won’t have a 2024 because he won’t have a 2022. We are going to beat him in November, and we are going to kill all of his aspirations to run for president of the United States.”

In an interview, Crist branded DeSantis as a democratic threat.

“He is the opposite of freedom. He is an autocrat. He is a demagogue. And I think people are sick of him,” Crist said of the sitting Republican governor, noting that DeSantis earlier this year admonished a group of high school students for wearing face masks at an indoor news conference. “Who is this guy? Who does he think he is? He is not the boss.”

DeSantis and Fried spent several hours together during a Cabinet meeting at the Tallahassee statehouse on Tuesday morning. During the hour-long session, during which Fried sat apart from the governor as they listened to agency chiefs’ briefings on state finances, contracting, and other subjects, they maintained a friendly demeanor.

As the meeting closed, DeSantis shook Fried’s hand and wished her “good luck” before disparaging her campaign and predicting her defeat in brief remarks to reporters.

“I think that you know she had an opportunity as being the only Democrat elected statewide to exercise some leadership and maybe get some things done and instead she’s used her time to try and smear me on a daily basis, that’s all she does,” DeSantis said of Fried.

Fried told reporters after the meeting that she believed the governor timed the meeting to sideline her on her final day of campaigning.

“Of course it’s not a coincidence,” she said of the meeting’s timing. “I think that he is scared of me winning tonight so he’s doing everything in his power to keep me off the campaign trail today.”

The Florida election concludes the most hectic run of primaries this year. Republicans from Pennsylvania to Arizona have backed candidates who have accepted Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim that has been roundly refuted by election authorities, the previous president’s attorney general, and judges he nominated.

And Democrats have, for the most part, avoided vicious primaries. Voters in New York will participate in congressional primaries on Tuesday, with two powerful Democratic committee chairs, Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, running for the same seat and other incumbents fending off left-wing threats.

In the last weeks to the midterm elections, Democrats are cautiously optimistic, believing that the Supreme Court’s decision removing a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion will galvanize the party’s base. However, the Democrats still face formidable obstacles, such as economic uncertainty and the historical fact that most parties lose seats in the first midterm after winning the presidency.

The dynamics are particularly difficult for Democrats in Florida, one of the most politically polarized states in the United States. The previous three races for governor in this state were decided by less than 1 percentage point. In contrast, the state has proven increasingly favorable to Republicans in recent years.

For the first time in modern history, Florida has more registered Republicans than Democrats, with roughly 5,2 million Republicans compared to almost 5 million Democrats. Fried is the sole Democrat holding a statewide position. And incumbent Republicans in four of these five offices — governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general, and chief financial officer — face no primary competition.

Democrats hope that U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who faces a relatively unknown opponent in her Senate primary on Tuesday, can unseat senior U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, in the fall. However, the national leadership of the party is currently focusing competitive Senate races in other states, including Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court’s abortion decision has dominated the last weeks of the Florida Democratic primary for governor.

Fried has positioned herself as the only candidate who truly supports abortion rights, capitalizing on Crist’s nomination of two conservative Supreme Court justices as governor.

The conservative-leaning court will soon rule on the constitutionality of the Republican-backed state legislature’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks. There are exceptions to the new abortion law in Florida if the procedure is required to save the pregnant woman’s life, to avoid serious damage, or if the fetus has a fatal defect. It prohibits exclusions for rape, incest, and human trafficking.

Crist emphasized that he is “pro-choice” and cited a bill he vetoed in 2010 as governor that would have required women seeking a first-trimester abortion to get and pay for an ultrasound exam.

“It is a woman’s right to choose,” Crist told the AP. “My record is crystal clear. And for my opponent to try to muddy that up is unconscionable, unfair and unwise.”

The election on Tuesday is the first since the controversial new electoral police unit created by DeSantis began investigating charges of voter fraud and other election offenses. Last Monday, the Office of Election Crimes and Security announced charges against 20 individuals for fraudulently voting in 2020 after felony convictions for murder or sex crimes, in what DeSantis termed its opening volley on such cases. In the 2020 election, more than 11 million Florida residents cast ballots.

The electoral police force was established at the request of the governor, who intended to address suspicions of voter fraud, which have become a significant Republican worry since Trump’s false assertion that his reelection was stolen. Voting rights groups and Democrats have frequently contended that the governor will use the policing unit as a political tool to improve his status in the Republican Party as he seeks re-election and positions himself for a possible 2024 presidential run.

Voter fraud is uncommon, often occurs in isolated cases, and is commonly caught. A 2020 presidential election investigation by the Associated Press revealed less than 475 probable examples of voter fraud out of 25.5 million ballots cast in the six states where Trump and his allies contested Joe Biden’s victory over them.

Related Articles

Back to top button