Primary election day in FL: The biggest prize goes to Democrat Crist or Fried to take on DeSantis

Voters go to polls for races ranging from Democrat nominee for governor to seats for Congress, Legislature, school boards

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.

Democratic voters will decide Tuesday whether to entrust their nomination to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who could become Florida’s first woman governor, or U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who served four years as a Republican governor but turned Democrat as his party veered to the right.

Either would face tough sledding against the Republican incumbent, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has used his nearly four years in office to stoke the GOP base by hyping culture war enthusiasms and raising his national profile through political trips out of state, most recently last week in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Florida’s Aug. 23, 2022 primaries will select candidates for a Democratic challenger to Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody, and for a Democrat and a Republican to replace Fried as commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Primaries also will winnow candidates for Florida’s new congressional districts under a map DeSantis forced upon the Legislature to give a distinct advantage to the Republicans, and a number of legislative primaries are worth noting.

What’s more, in the new politically-charged world of the Florida education system, DeSantis caused a stir this summer when he released a list of 30 local school board candidates for the 2022 elections, a move that no Florida governor has done in recent years.

Governor

Fried, an attorney and statewide Cabinet member who’s completing a single term as agriculture commissioner, argues that she’s best positioned to exploit the single issue that might cut DeSantis down to size: abortion, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade — plus the state’s new 15-week abortion ban and Republicans’ avowed intention to further restrict access to the procedure.

“Women will decide this primary and this general election, and that has Ron DeSantis scared out of his mind,” Fried said during a recent campaign stop in Tallahassee. “I am the only Democrat who has won our state since 2012. And I’m the only Democrat who can beat Ron DeSantis.”

Democrats Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist in a gubernatorial primary debate broadcast on July 21, 2022. Source: Screenshot: NBC 6 Miami

Crist, also an attorney and a member of Congress, is betting on his experience and a clear moral appeal to what he sees as attacks by DeSantis on beleaguered minority groups including LGBTQ people. He has also served as an elected commissioner of education and attorney general as well as his one term as governor.

“I will be your voice and I will fight for fundamental fairness just like I did when I was your attorney general and fighting for civil rights,” Crist said during his own recent foray into Tallahassee.

As of Aug. 18, the Friends of Ron DeSantis committee had $122,440,300 in cash on hand. His campaign had raised $20,088,129 and has $10,030,010 on hand after expenses. He drew no primary opposition.

The Friends of Charlie Crist committee collected $824,013.13 during the latest reporting period, Aug. 6-18, for a total since May 2021 of close to $7.3 million, of which he now has $656,356 after expenses. His campaign brought in $344,551 during the period for a total of $7,966,127, leaving him with about $826,708 after expenses.

Florida Consumers First, a committee associated with Fried, collected $616,223 during the two weeks ending on Aug. 18 and a total of $7,351,022 since May 2018 and has $239,718 on hand. Her campaign raised $178,107 during the two weeks ending in Aug. 18, for a total of 3,633,676, with $153,449 after expenses.

A St. Pete Polls survey of likely voters, reported Monday by Florida Politics, showed Crist with 59 percent support against some 30 percent for Fried with 11 percent undecided. The survey queried 1.617 primary voters between Aug. 20 and 21, the publication noted.

An earlier poll, by the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida, indicated that 47 percent of Democrats who said they were likely to vote or already had done so supported Fried, with 43 percent going for Crist. Fifty-two percent of the males in that poll favored Crist and 55 of the women went for Fried.

Here’s an outline of additional races being decided today:

U.S. Senate

U.S. Rep. Val Demings is the popular Democratic candidate looking to unseat Republican Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat in Congess, but she faces three other Democrats listed on the ballot in Tuesday’s primary election.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings spoke at FL Democratic Party’s annual leadership conference in mid-July. Credit: FL Democratic Party.

Still, the spotlight has been on Demings’ efforts to deny Rubio a third term.

A former Orlando police chief, Demings is the only woman in the Democratic primary race among three males. She has managed to raise the most money for her campaign, according to campaign finance records from the Federal Election Commission.

The other candidates are William J. Sanchez, Brian Rush, and Ricardo De La Fuente. Both Sanchez and Rush are lawyers, according to their respective campaign websites.

Fuente doesn’t include much information on his website, but his LinkedIn page mentions he’d run for Congress in Texas in 2020 and is an accomplished athlete.

Demings’ been raising more money, according to Federal Election Commission records — about $47.9 million from January of 2021 to August. Rubio has raised about $36.7 million in that same period. Demings had left $8,817,556 after expenses and Rubio had $14.8 million left after expenses.

Rubio is unopposed in the primary.

Cabinet races

Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, both Republicans and reliable votes behind DeSantis on matters before the Florida Cabinet, face no primary opposition this year.

The Democratic primary for attorney general pits former Orange County State Attorney Aramis Ayala against Jim Lewis, a criminal defense lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, and Daniel Uhlfelder, an attorney from Santa Rosa Beach. Uhlfelder is perhaps best known for dressing as the Grim Reaper to protest DeSantis’ COVID policies at the height of the pandemic.

DeSantis reassigned death-penalty cases away from Ayala in 2019 after she declined to pursue the sanction to a man accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and a police officer.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson is shown during the organizational session on Nov. 17, 2020. Credit: Florida Channel, screenshot.

In the race to replace Fried as ag commissioner, Wilton Simpson, who’s finishing a two-year term as president of the Florida Senate, is running in the Republican primary against James Shaw, described by Fox13 in the Tampa Bay area as a real-estate investor and compost farmer who’s reportedly been endorsed by dirty trickster Roger Stone.

As of Aug. 18, Simpson’s campaign had raised $2,168,896 and had $1,639,225 left after expenses. The Friends of Wilton Simpson committee had raised 7,149,684 and had $2,736,787 left after expenses.

Shaw’s campaign had raised $103,715 as of Aug. 18 and was $1,065 in the hold accounting for expenses.

In the Democratic primary, Naomi Esther Blemur saw endorsements yanked after opponent J.R. Gaillot circulated old social media posts considered anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ, according to a report by The Advocate.

The race, which also features lobbyist and former congressional candidate J.R. Gaillot and cannabis activist Ryan Morales, has degenerated into fingerpointing and mutual recriminations between the candidates, Florida Politics has reported.

Blemur’s campaign had raised $50,858 but was $5.114 in debt, according to her most recent filing. Gaillot had raised $14,284 and had $1,588 after expenses. Morales had raised $20,981 and was $1,122 in debt.

As with Patronis, former state House member Adam Hattersley has no opponent in the Democratic nomination to oppose Patronis in November.

Congress

In Central Florida’s CD 7 GOP primary, Army combat veteran and Trump-administration defense adviser Cory Mill led state House member Anthony Sabatini in a recent poll, Florida Politics reported. In an eight-candidate field, Mills had around 24 percent support against 22 percent for Sabatini and nearly 16 percent for former Navy sniper Brady Duke.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat. Credit: Colin Hackley

CD 10 — a reconfigured version of Val Demings’ seat, also in Central Florida — has produced a spirited Democratic primary featuring state Sen. Randolph Bracy and Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a progressive activist who’s been endorsed by Bernie Sanders. Also in the race are former U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Alan Grayson.

In the GOP primary for CD 10, Calvin Wimbish, a self-described “retired Green Beret, an unapologetic Christian, and a fierce America First Conservative,” has released an internal poll showing him with 30 percent support among likely Republican voters in a field of five candidates.

Two congressional districts in the Tampa Bay region are open, including the one Crist is vacating to run for governor.

In CD 13, Anna Paulina Luna is competing with Amanda Makki, a small business owner; Kevin Hayslett, an attorney who’s been endorsed by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn; and Moneer Kheireddine, a law student. Luna, who’s been endorsed by Donald Trump, won the nomination two years ago but lost to Crist in the general election. Makki lost to Luna last time around in the GOP primary. Eric Lynn, a former national security aide during the Obama administration, is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Laurel Lee, former Florida Secretary of State

In CD 15, former Secretary of State Laurel Lee is competing with state Sen. Kelli Stargel, state Rep. Jackie Toledo, and two Navy veterans: Demetries Grimes and Kevin “Mac” McGovern. Five Democrats are running, including former TV investigative reporter Alan Cohn and Eddie Geller, who used to produce videos for MoveOn. Also in the race are political consultant Gavin Brown, military veteran Cesar Ramirez, and Bill VanHorn, an aerospace contractor.

In South Florida, the Democratic primary in CD 23 pits former legislator Jared Moskowitz against Ben Sorensen, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner, plus four lesser-known candidates. Moskowitz served as director of emergency management for Gov. DeSantis, which prompted Sorensen to refer to him in an ad as “a Ron DeSantis kind of guy,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. However, anti-gun activist Fred Guttenberg has praised Moskowitz for driving a package of gun laws through the Legislature following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in 2018.

Florida Legislature

While many lawmakers in the Senate and House are unopposed in the primary, there’s still some tough races.

State Sen. Lauren Book, a South Florida Democrat. Florida Channel screenshot

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, the incumbent who has played a major role in the Senate chamber, is up against Barbara Sharief in the Senate District 35 race.

Sharief’s bio says she was a Broward County’s first Black female mayor, county commissioner, and president of the Florida Association of Counties. “Barbara was a 14-year-old girl who lost her beloved father to gun violence. That tragic event molded her significantly, and it sparked a desire to dedicate her life to service.”

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote that “identity politics is a factor in the Book-Sharief contest, as Broward continues becoming more racially diverse. Though it’s a politically sensitive subject, at least some voters are inclined to cast ballots for individuals with whom they feel a cultural and racial connection.

“Book is white and Jewish. Sharief is black and Muslim.”

With no Republicans in the race, the primary will determine the race.

In Senate District 15, two Black women from the state House are vying for a seat in the state Senate. They are Kamia L. Brown, minority leader pro tempore in 2020-2022 and recently, the new chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, and Geraldine Thompson, who has been the Democratic ranking member in the public integrity and elections committee and the higher education appropriations subcommittee. Thompson was at the center of a legal challenge over the next Florida Supreme Court justice, derailing DeSantis’ pick for two years. 

In House District 109, Democrat James Bush III, a retired teacher, has an opponent after all these years — Ashley V. Gantt, a Democrat and Miami lawyer. Bush has come under fire after he sided with Republicans on various issues, including the 2022 15-week abortion ban. Then things got really ugly.

As Florida Politics writes: “Rep. James Bush III is demanding ‘swift action’ against Sen. Jason Pizzo, a fellow elected Miami Democrat, for calling him ‘the Governor’s little b**ch.’”

School board candidates

The governor endorsed a total of 30 local school board candidates throughout the state. Meanwhile, one of the front-runners for the Democratic candidate for the 2022 gubernatorial race, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, released his own set of seven school board endorsements in July.

Teacher with students, in a classroom. Credit: Getty Images.

At issue is that the DeSantis administration continues to shape the Florida’s public education system to a more conservative bent. That includes stifling certain teachings of American history, library book bans and other measures.

DeSantis, a Republican, is doing everything he can to get local communities to rally behind some of his selected candidates — likely a way to block school board candidates who, according to the governor, are progressive to leftist.

When all the ballots are tallied up, Florida voters and the state education system will see just how effective DeSantis’ endorsements are for these races, which are supposed to be non-partisan.

Will Floridians voting for candidates see a new partisan layer to school boards? Or will voters keep the longstanding status quo for non-partisan school board members?

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.

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