As the Democratic primary for governor approaches with less than a day until the Aug. 23 election, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist of the St. Petersburg area have tirelessly campaigned to make their case as the best candidate to take on incumbent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Status of the race
Since launching his campaign, Crist has seen the bulk of endorsements including from influential groups such as the Florida AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association. He has also received more fundraising and consistent support in polls compared to his primary opponent.
Crist’s name recognition can be attributed to his six statewide campaigns and previous tenure as Florida governor from 2007 to 2011, albeit as a Republican, until switching to the Democratic Party in 2012.
Meanwhile, Fried has taken the stance as the “lifelong Democrat” in the race and cited her successful campaign for her cabinet-level position in 2018 to show her as a “tested” candidate for the Democratic nomination.
However, in the weeks since the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a person’s right to choose has a renewed focus in this year’s elections and has heated the race.
Fried has taken an offensive against Crist throughout the race, highlighting his record on issues like gun control, but has renewed focus on his stance on abortion rights as a former attorney general and governor. Crist has tended to stay away from attacking Fried, instead focusing his attacks on DeSantis.
While candidates Crist and Fried have participated in various gubernatorial forums across the state, the lone televised NBC debate was seen as the most important for broadcasting the two candidates.
The debate and its impact
Crist and Fried met on July 21 for one debate, which included discussions on topics like the economy, electability and abortion rights.
At the start of the debate, the tone was competitive yet it began to heat up as the night continued.
It took only thirteen minutes for arguably the most impassioned exchange of the night on the topic of abortion, with Fried regarding the former governor’s judicial appointments of Florida Supreme Court Justices Charles Canady, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson as “the most radical extremists” when it comes to abortion.
Fried further stated, “When women die here in the state of Florida, that is on you and you have to live with that every single day.”
Crist fired back saying, “That’s not true, and you shouldn’t say those kinds of things,” and further clarified his actions as governor — vetoing an anti-abortion bill — as well as current endorsements from abortion rights advocates across the state.
Crist called Fried’s comments “desperate” and touted his polling lead over Fried as a reason for her to “muddy up” the race.
Former state Rep. Cindy Polo, who has endorsed Fried, spoke with the Florida Political Review on the impacts of the debate.
“I am a fan of direct communication and what the Commissioner said is in line with that. Why not call out his past decisions?” Polo said. “It’s his duty and responsibility to own it and answer for his decisions that still have consequences today.”
Aside from the attacks between the candidates, there was mostly agreement on more hot-topic issues, including issuing the death penalty on the shooter responsible for the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Another contested topic between Fried and Crist was the question of which candidate would be the most effective to take on a well-funded DeSantis in November.
To unite the Democratic Party, Crist pledged he would endorse Fried “that same night” if Fried is victorious in the primary — Fried didn’t return the pledge.
Fried instead embraced her slogan of trying “something new” for Florida and mentioned her position as the only statewide elected Democrat, while also implying Crist would lose again in the general election.
“What I do know is that I’m tired of recycled and repurposed politicians. I want something new and I want someone unafraid of being direct and tough,” Polo said. “I will support Nikki because it’s who I believe can do the job at hand.”
On the other hand, Crist insisted he could also flip the governor’s mansion in November by taking the attack to DeSantis on issues like affordability and abortion.
The post-debate reaction was largely mixed, with both campaigns expressing victory after the debate. However, Crist did receive three notable endorsements after, including prominent state Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami Dade, who said Crist was a “unifier.”
Since the debate, however, both campaigns have opted for a more negative, offensive approach.
The Crist campaign recently released attack ads, including one criticizing Fried’s relationship with controversial Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz as well as questioning her record of supporting anti-abortion politicians.
“The congressman and his race, up to recently, have lived up to their reputation: the nice guys,” Polo said. “That works for some voters and bless them for that, but I’m not in search of yet another ‘nice guy’ Democrat. I want a fighter. We need a fighter.”
A recent poll suggests that Crist continues to have an upper hand among likely voters, with 56% supporting Crist and 24% supporting Fried. Yet, according to Fried’s campaign, “The only polls that matter are the ones on Election Day.”
Primary Election Day is tomorrow, Aug. 23 throughout the state of Florida, where polls will close at 7 p.m.
Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.
Featured Image: Left: Cropped photo of Governor Charlie Crist at an event for Fred Thompson; right: Nikki Fried at an environmental conference in St. Petersburg, FL. (Public domain photos Crist (1) & Fried (2) by Flickr)