Gloves off: Crist, Fried battle for governor gets meaner as Democratic primary election looms

By: - August 5, 2022 6:14 pm

U.S. Rep Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on primary day, Aug. 23, 2022. Credit: Nikki Fried for Governor campaign, Charlie Crist for Governor campaign.

With the primaries just over two weeks away, Democratic gubernatorial candidates U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried have stepped into the battle ring, taking aggressive shots at their opponents in new political ads and campaign messaging.

As the current Democratic underdog in the race, based on current polls, Fried has been questioning the character of Charlie Crist and the authenticity of his Democratic policies, often reminding her audience of his previous actions as a Republican governor.

Crist has largely kept his focus on unseating Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Keep in mind that Crist also has been a GOP Attorney General and Education Commissioner in the past.)

But now, with the release of new campaign ads, the gloves are off as the Aug. 23 primaries loom.

The ads are a significant tone-shift from just Tuesday, when the two candidates had separate ‘conversations’ with a panel of journalists — Fried matter-of-factly criticized Crist, and Crist didn’t mention Fried at all.

Fried’s new ad reflects on Crist’s time as a Republican governor, when he appointed Charles Canady to the Florida Supreme Court. Fried’s ad calls the justice an “anti-choice extremist.” The video ends with the sentiment that Floridians “just can’t trust Charlie Crist. Not as a Republican. Not as a Democrat. Not at all.”

And on Twitter, Fried tweeted an audio recording from Crist’s previous bid for governor, saying that Crist is “proud of (his) pro-life record” and promising to support a Constitutional amendment to protect “traditional marriage” — which is a stand-in for saying that he would oppose same-sex marriage equality.

But just the day before, on Aug. 4, Crist’s campaign team released their own attack ad on Fried, also calling into question her own relationship to the Republican Party.

The ad highlights Fried previously donating to Ashley Moody, who was running as a Republican for the Attorney General position. Division of Elections contributions show $2,000 from Fried to Moody for the 2018 campaign. Moody has served as the legal arm of enforcement for some of DeSantis’ right-wing political efforts.

The Crist video also questions her allyship with U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. The ad claims that Fried and Gaetz are “close friends and allies.”

Gaetz is a Republican and vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump. Gaetz is under investigation for “possibly having sex with a 17-year-old and then paying for her to travel over state lines,” according to Orlando Weekly.

Gaetz was a state lawmaker between 2010 and 2016, and Politico reported this week that Fried became friends with Gaetz at that time during discussion over medical marijuana. Fried was a lobbyist for much of that time, according to Florida lobbyist registration data. Fried is no longer friends with Gaetz, according to Politico.

Fried is not new to calling out her primary opponent. For example, on June 27 she tweeted:Democrats, Charlie Crist couldn’t even beat Rick Scott, the most unpopular governor in modern Florida history. I’ve actually won Florida as a Democrat, the only one since 2012. It’s time to make a choice.” This is a reference to the 2014 race for governor, when Crist, then a Democrat, lost to Scott.

Until recently, Crist largely ignored Fried’s messaging, even to a point where he refused a reporter’s question about Fried’s criticism of Crist’s spotty record on abortion rights, replying that “I don’t respond to her.”

In addition to her role as Agriculture Commissioner, Fried is a statewide elected Cabinet member, an attorney, a former public defender and a former lobbyist on cannabis issues.

But that tone started to shift, specifically during their only one-on-one debate for the primaries, when he referred to her participation in the debate as the “voice of desperation.”

Fried’s campaign team took note of Crist’s attack, and in a memo said that he’s “gone negative” in his battle against Fried.

“We knew it would happen, we just didn’t know the exact date. Now we do. On June 23, 2022, Charlie Crist realized he will likely lose this primary and so he’s gone negative, in the most inappropriate of ways.”

Primary election day is Aug. 23 and mail-in ballot voting has already begun.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.