Democrats look to Charlie Crist to try to slow down Florida Governor Ron DeSantis before 2024
“This guy wants to be President of the United States of America,” Crist said in his victory speech. “However, when we defeat him on November 8, that show is over.”
Crist’s argument against another four years of DeSantis is also grounded in Floridians craving a less divisive tone from its leader. Throughout the Democratic primary, Crist and Fried have portrayed DeSantis as a bully and despot who is far more focused on his position to run for the White House than on governing the nation’s third-largest state. Time and time again, they noted, DeSantis forced the other branches of state government to bend to his will, eliminating all checks on his executive branch.
Earlier Tuesday, DeSantis predicted he would face Crist in the general election. At a press conference in Tallahassee, he dismissed Crist as “a guy who’s been running for office for five decades, who votes with (Joe) Biden 100% of the time,” and he made it clear he had the intends to frame the race around its controversial response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Crist, he said, “has opposed every decision I’ve made to keep this state open, to maintain people’s rights, to respect their rights, to save jobs, to keep kids in school, to save businesses”.
Inside his St. Petersburg watch party, Crist didn’t have to wait long for some good news. By the time his campaign greeted supporters in the Hilton conference room just after polls closed at 7 p.m., early voting results strongly suggested it would be a drama-free night. The crowd erupted in cheers as a big screen showed a hugely promising start to the count for Crist.
A repeat of the Biden playbook?
By choosing Crist, Democrats are betting that a well-known and innocuous candidate gives them the best chance of unseating a divisive but dynamic Republican incumbent. It’s a nearly identical playbook to the one successfully deployed by Biden to defeat Trump in 2020.
“I know him. I met him. I trust him,” Darla Price, a retiree from St. Petersburg, told CNN after voting for Crist.
However, the Biden plan notably did not work in Florida. Trump won the state by a bigger margin in 2020 than in 2016. Crist himself hasn’t won a statewide general election in Florida in 16 years, despite having tried several times.
After decades as a Republican — serving as a state legislator, commissioner of education, attorney general, and reaching the governor’s office in 2007 — Crist fell out of favor with his party for committing the cardinal sin of kiss a Democratic President, Barack Obama. He was defeated in a 2010 Republican primary for the Senate by Marco Rubio and then lost in the general election as an independent.
But four years later, he reappeared as a Democratic candidate to face his successor, then governor. Rick Scott. Crist lost 64,000 votes to regain his old job. In 2016, he then turned to the House of Representatives and was elected three times as a Democrat to represent his home in Pinellas County.
But as Fried struggled to defend his candidacy, Crist’s campaign gained ground. He has built a coalition of supporters across the state and across all factions of the party: labor unions, environmental groups, black religious leaders, prominent women leaders, and elected officials on all sides. Popular Democratic lawmakers like State Representative Anna Eskamani and State Senator Shevrin Jones, who were initially dismissive of Crist, endorsed him over Fried.
Most primary voters were ultimately unconvinced.
Shortly after polls closed in the Florida Panhandle at 8 p.m., Fried told supporters in Fort Lauderdale that she called Crist to congratulate him on winning the nomination. She strongly hinted that this was not the end of her time in the Florida political arena.
“Nobody ever broke a glass ceiling on the first pitch,” Fried said.