Florida Democrats hope the third time is the charm for former governor and perennial candidate Charlie Crist. Last night, Crist won a decisive victory against Sec. of Agriculture Nikki Fried, the only state cabinet elected Democrat. Even for those who don’t follow Florida politics closely, Crist’s name recognition strength vs. Fried’s made his win unsurprising underwhelming, but there was an important message that may have been overlooked as Crist delivered his victory speech: Democrats weren’t willing to take the risk of nominating another candidate favored by the extreme left.
CRIST WAS THE CLOSEST THING TO A ‘SAFE PICK’ FOR DEMOCRATS
While Crist can claim one statewide victory to Florida’s Governor’s Mansion in 2006, Crist went on to lose a campaign for senate as an independent, and his second bid for governor in 2014, after he switched to the Democratic Party and lost to incumbent Republican Rick Scott.
Since Andrew Gillum’s narrow loss to DeSantis in 2016, more details have emerged of Gillum’s reckless and possibly illegal activities, ranging from bribes to doing drugs with prostitutes. Gillum was the favorite of socialist Bernie Sanders and generated enough support among younger voters to defeat then candidate Gwen Graham. In hindsight, Ghraham had many similarities to Crist, and was well known due to her family connections. Graham’s father, Bob Graham, served as Florida Governor from 1979 to 1987, then went on to serve as U.S. Senator for Florida for nearly two decades, serving from 1987 to 2005. During the past four years, many Democrats have wondered what would have happened if they had nominated Gwen Graham back in 2018.
While nobody can travel back in time, there’ no denying the fact that compared to Gillum, Gwen Graham’s voting record, which included several noteworthy right-leaning votese, could have swayed enough moderate Republicans and Independents to defeat DeSantis.
VOTER ENTHUSIASM FOR DESANTIS IN 2022 MUCH HIGHER THAN SCOTT IN 2014
Democrats may cling to the hope that Crist will be the gubernatorial version of Biden vs. Trump, but Biden didn’t win Florida for the same reason Crist will need a miracle: Voter enthusiasm. Republicans packed the polls for Trump to deliver the Sunshine State by a wider margin than expected in 2020. DeSantis’ support is just as apparent and evident throughout the state. As DeSantis has tackled social issues such as Critical Race Theory , launched civic education initiatives and such as audited special districts for corporate giants such as Disney, many conservatives joined his proactive approach to reform and are much more publicly visible and vocal than they were when Rick Scott was making changes without as much media exposure. Since Crist couldn’t win vs. Rick Scott’s base, the odds are even uglier against DeSantis.
CRIST HAS NO DEFINED ‘BASE’ OF SUPPORT
Ironically, the largest base of support that Crist has ever enjoyed came from Republicans in 2006, when he ran as Jeb Bush’s chosen conservative successor to the office and enjoyed broad support from the majority of registered Republicans. The more Crist moved to the center, the less support he found.
Just like Val Demings vs. Marco Rubio, Crist can’t rely on Florida’s most Democratic counties to carry him to victory. will have to chip away at DeSantis’ slight majority approval from independents, (Recent polls show DeSantis with between 52 percent to 54 percent approval among Independents). Republicans have a statistical advantage with more overall registered voters in the state. Both party’s “Get Out the Vote” drives will be extremely critical.
For more stories on Florida politics, visit our Florida political news section.
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