Democrats have selected their challenger to Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, and it is a former Republican governor.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., defeated Nikki Fried to win the Democrat nomination for governor in Florida's primary election Tuesday night, according to Decision Desk HQ.
Crist defeated the Florida Agriculture Commissioner Fried, who is currently Florida's only statewide elected Democrat.
Crist, 66, last served in statewide office from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican governor. He lost a 2010 race for U.S. Senate as an independent and a 2014 run for governor as a Democrat.
In selecting Crist in the race for governor, Florida Democrats sided with a candidate backed by many in the party's establishment who viewed him as the safest choice.
But the race ultimately centered on the political future of DeSantis, who 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 into divides over race, gender and LGBTQ rights have resonated with many Republican voters who see DeSantis as a natural heir to former President Donald Trump.
The dynamics are especially challenging for Democrats in Florida, one of the most politically divided states in the U.S. Its past 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.
And Republicans have no primary competition for four of those five positions — governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general and chief financial officer — which are all held by GOP incumbents.
The Supreme Court's abortion decision animated the final weeks of the Democrat primary.
Fried promoted herself as the only true abortion-rights supporter in the race, seizing on Crist's appointment 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 pregnant woman’s life, to prevent 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 is "pro-choice" and highlighted a bill he vetoed as governor in 2010 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."
DeSantis and Fried spent several hours together Tuesday morning during a Cabinet meeting at the Tallahassee statehouse. They kept things cordial during the hourslong event, which placed Fried seats away from the governor as they heard reports from agency heads on state finances, contracting and other matters.
DeSantis shook Fried's hand as the meeting concluded and told her "good luck" before criticizing her campaign and predicting her loss 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.
After the meeting, Fried told reporters she thought the governor had scheduled the meeting as a way to sideline her during 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."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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