Crist celebrates primary win, shifts focus to DeSantis

Politics

(NewsNation) — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., spent Tuesday night celebrating his gubernatorial primary victory over Nikki Fried. Waiting for Crist, the onetime governor of Florida, is current Florida governor and rising GOP star Ron DeSantis.

Crist wasted no time Tuesday night attacking DeSantis, his opponent in November’s general election, and DeSantis’ rumored presidential ambitions. He called the governor “dangerous” and a “bully.”

“Tonight, the people of Florida clearly sent a message: They want a governor who cares about them and solves real problems, preserves our freedom, not a bully who divides us and takes our freedom away,” Crist said. “This guy wants to be president of the United States of America and everybody knows it. However, when we defeat him on Nov. 8 that show is over. Enough.”

Crist, who served as a Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, has been billed as a moderate Democrat who hopes to win over the votes of independents.

Crist and Fried agreed on issues such as abortion rights, but in the end Democratic voters viewed Crist as the safer option and more likely bet to beat DeSantis. Fried too, had had her campaign shrouded in controversy since its outset.

But experts and polls anticipate Crist will still face an uphill battle in unseating DeSantis.

“I think this is going to be a pretty compelling race (between) Crist and Gov. DeSantis, I mean for one, Crist has been here before,” said Brian Fonseca, director of the Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University. “He’s no stranger to running a statewide campaign for governor.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried gestures after conceding the race to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Crist will face incumbent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in November. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Still, Fonseca said “his gut” tells him DeSantis has a “firm lead” in the race against Crist.

DeSantis has invigorated his base and some voters nationwide with proclamation like “Florida is the state where woke goes to die.”

The dynamics are especially challenging for Democrats in Florida, one of the most politically divided states in the U.S. Its last 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. Fried serves as the only Democrat in statewide office. And Republicans have no primary competition for four of those five positions — governor, U.S. Senator, attorney general and chief financial officer — which are all held by GOP incumbents.

DeSantis’ influence was seen in other elections across the state, where candidates he endorsed won their primary elections. Candidates such as Miami teacher Monica Colluci, who ran her campaign for school board by crusading against critical race theory and what she called “extreme liberal agendas.”

DeSantis endorsed 30 school board candidates across the state and, according to The Hill, 21 of them won their elections on Tuesday.

“Every race is important, especially these school board races, so we got involved to help candidates who were fighting the machine, fighting the lockdowners … fighting the people who want to indoctrinate our kids instead of educate our kids,” DeSantis said.

Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Hialeah, Florida. DeSantis will face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November. (AP Photo/Gaston De Cardenas)

DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez celebrated the statewide wins on Tuesday night as part of their “Keep Florida Free Tour,” according to the Miami Herald.

They not only touted confidence they would win general elections come November, but made strong remarks about education, something DeSantis preaches about frequently to his base.

“We want them to be proud to be Americans; we want them to be patriots,” Nuñez said of children at the rally. “We are not going to allow critical race theory to divide them, and to teach them to hate each other and to hate our country.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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