DeSantis, Crist face Florida voters amid signs of shift

Florida 2022 midterm election

This combination of photos shows Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist on Sept. 12, 2022, in Miami, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sept. 26, 2022, in Largo, Fla., right. DeSantis and Crist head to the debate stage Monday night for what may be Crist’s best, and perhaps last, opportunity to change the trajectory of the Florida governor’s race. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (NewsNation) — It’s historically been a swing state, but now Florida is no longer up for grabs like it used to be, and signs of a political shift can be seen in the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis presented voters with a clear choice on Tuesday: Do they want more of his brash brand of culture war politics or Democratic challenger Charlie Crist’s appeal to moderates?

A decisive Election Day victory over Crist, a former Republican governor of the state, would bolster DeSantis’ status as a GOP rising star with potential White House aspirations. The race will also be the latest test of the state’s political drift to the right.

DeSantis has vastly out-fundraised Crist and performed better in polls in the lead-up to an election where he rarely mentioned his opponent by name and instead characterized the race as a fight against the “woke agenda” of liberals.

Crist, on the other hand, centered his campaign on DeSantis, framing the Republican as a bully fixated on angling toward the presidency at the expense of the everyday problems of Floridians. At the candidates’ only debate, Crist repeatedly pressed the governor to commit to serving a full second term if elected. DeSantis skirted the question.

Democrats, the minority party in the state government, face considerable challenges in a state recently considered to be a perennial political battleground but that has drifted to the right. Trump won the state twice, and Republicans have been aggressive in organizing at the local level and made a sustained push on voter registration.

In a telling signal, GOP voters cast a greater number of ballots than Democrats in Miami-Dade County during the early voting period, increasing confidence that Republicans could take the county for the first time in two decades.

Last year, the GOP notched more registered voters in the state than Democrats for the first time in modern history and then continued to widen the gap into November. Still, the state’s large number of voters not affiliated with any party has the ability to swing an election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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