Charlie Crist claims victory in the Democratic primary for governor on Aug. 23, 2022, in St. Petersburg. Source: Screenshot/Facebook
Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor seeking to regain that office as a Democrat, swamped Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic primary, racking up nearly 60 percent of the vote on Tuesday.
Crist had received 856,753 votes as of around 9 p.m. eastern time, or 59.8 percent, against 505,009 for Fried, or 35.25 percent. The total cast exceeded 1.4 million.
Fried conceded in Fort Lauderdale a little after 8 p.m. eastern time, after the balloting ended in the Central Time Zone, without endorsing Crist by name.
But she did say: “I will campaign up and down the ballot to make sure that Democrats are elected into our city and county commission seats, into our statewide elected positions, into our senators and into our House members.”
Crist, currently a congressman, took the stage in his hometown St. Petersburg a short while later.
“We can unite Democrats, independents, and many Republicans who care about our Florida,” he told supporters.
“And we will defeat Ron DeSantis,” the Republican incumbent, he continued.
DeSantis likes to talk about his “freedom” agenda, but “the truth is this governor couldn’t care less about your freedom,” Crist said.
“He’s abusive. He is a bully. He’s dangerous. He imitates the worst authoritarian leaders on the globe, and it’s all a political game that he’s playing. He wants to appeal to the extremists across the nation as he seeks the Republican nomination for governor in 2024. He won’t condemn hate or extremism like the Nazis running around our state waving his flag and spreading antisemitic hate,” he continued.
The hard part
Now comes the hard part: ousting a popular incumbent who has more than $132 million to spend, according to the latest financial reports for his campaign and the Friends of Ron DeSantis committee filed on Aug. 18. Crist, by contrast, had a little less than $1.5 million between his campaign and political committee at that point.
Fried is a former public defender who became a marijuana industry lobbyist before running for her Cabinet seat in 2018. In office, she used the platform to dog Gov. DeSantis and the two Republicans on the Cabinet, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who faced no primary opposition.
The Cabinet is the independently elected governing panel that helps the governor run select agencies and set policy.
Fried presented herself to the electorate as “something new” — an energetic alternative to the old-boys network that carries so much weight in Florida politics. Florida has never had a female governor and Fried and hoped to be the first if she could win the primary and unseat DeSantis.
Crist, by contrast, literally is an old boy — in his mid-60s, he’s got around 20 years on Fried in age, not to mention political experience. He has held three elected statewide offices: education commissioner (when the voters still selected those), attorney general and governor.
He served in all those offices as a Republican but began edging toward the Democratic Party (via an interval as an independent) as his old party veered more to the right wing. He won the U.S. House seat representing Pinellas County as a Democrat in 2016 and has proved a reliable supporter of his new party’s agenda.
Although she enjoyed a prominent role in state government, Fried’s campaign was slow to gather momentum. That opened the way for Crist, who came to dominate in money-raising and endorsements from most state newspaper editorial boards, unions, elected Democrats, and environmental groups. He also bested Fried in fundraising.
It seemed the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June injected fresh life into Fried’s campaign as she pointed to Crist’s past squishiness on abortion while he was still a Republican and argued that, as a woman, she was best positioned to inspire the party base.
Still, Crist promised to protect abortion access by vetoing any new anti-abortion legislation and even signing an executive order on his first day in office, if elected, seeking to limit limitations on the procedure. He repeated that pledge Tuesday night, adding a promise to reinstate Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, removed by DeSantis essentially over political differences.
One thing they certainly agreed about: That Ron DeSantis needs to be stopped in Florida before he launches a formal presidential bid. To that end, Crist offered during a debate in July to support Fried if won the primary. She declined to reciprocate at the time, but was firm on the point on primary morning.
“The Democrats are united about one thing, and that is taking down Ron DeSantis. And so, regardless of the election results this evening, I know that come tomorrow morning the Democratic Party is going to to come together” to ensure that “28 years of one-party control of the state ends on in Nov. 8,” Fried told reporters Tuedsay morning.
“We are going to be united not just here in Florida but across the country, knowing that Ron DeSantis is our greatest threat to democracy — greatest threat to everything that we hold true as Americans, and freedom and patriotism.”
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