MIAMI (CN) — Democratic U.S. Representative Charlie Crist will face incumbent Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida’s gubernatorial election after a strong showing in the state’s primary on Tuesday.
Before polls officially closed in the state’s panhandle at 8 p.m., the Associated Press called the election for Crist and Demings.
According to unofficial numbers released by the Florida Division of Elections, Crist beat out Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried by 25 points. Crist has more than 820,000 votes compared to Fried’s 483,430 tallied.
In the other closely watched race, Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings headed to victory over her three challengers to face Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in November. Demings, who captured 85% of the vote, won by a landslide of 1.1 million votes over her opponents, who garnered just under 200,000 votes.
DeSantis and Rubio, who face no Republican challengers, will coast to November’s general election. But for Democrats, Tuesday’s primary was a chance to throw a liberal wrench into a possible 2024 presidential run for DeSantis and wrestle a crucial Senate seat from Rubio that could allow Biden to cement a legacy in the second half of his term.
Fried gave her concession speech within minutes of the state’s unofficial results.
“We fought really hard for this campaign,” she said. “We gave hope and we gave inspiration.”
Fried is expected to back Crist, telling supporters to make DeSantis a one-term governor.
Minutes later, Crist gave his acceptance speech.
“Truth is this governor could care less about freedom,” Crist said. “He’s a bully and he’s dangerous.”
For most of the summer, polls favored Crist — a former Republican governor, who turned Independent before finally becoming a Democrat — over Fried, the only statewide-elected Democrat the state has for seen in a decade. Since announcing his candidacy in May 2021, the congressional representative quickly amassed scores of endorsements from elected officials statewide and nationally, as well as support from the state’s largest unions.
Crist also raised more money than Fried, garnering nearly $8 million in contributions compared to her $3.6 million, according to the Florida Department of State’s campaign finance database.
Crist and Fried share similar visions for the state: more affordable housing, better environmental protections, lowering home insurance premiums and preserving abortion rights. Yet the latter has become a lightning rod since the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in June.
When he was a Republican, Crist expressed pro-life views, while Fried has “been pro-choice my entire life,” as she said at the race’s only debate this summer. The charge prompted Crist to spend thousands in last-minute TV ads defending his current pro-choice position. The Florida Planned Parenthood PAC did not endorse a gubernatorial candidate.
In the end, the two candidates campaigned on who could best take down DeSantis, with Crist touting his experience and national connections while Fried offered voters a fresh voice and the chance to elect the state’s first female governor.
“What’s wrong with Ron? Everything is wrong with Ron,” said Crist at campaign event on Monday. “You deserve better. That’s why this campaign is going to be successful.”
DeSantis has made headlines over the summer for his support of anti-abortion policies and attacking so-called “woke” policies in education by restricting discussion of race and gender. Even after Florida Legislature adjourned in May, he’s continued to travel the state holding press conferences that border on campaign events, avoiding pointed attacks on his gubernatorial challengers by name and arguing against Biden’s national policies.
DeSantis silently put in paperwork last November for reelection, and has largely avoided any talk about his campaign or the buzz about a possible 2024 presidential bid, all the while amassing a massive war campaign war chest of more than $155 million from his own campaign contributions and a PAC that has fundraised since 2019.
He did pounce on the primary election news cycle on Monday, releasing an ad titled “Top Gov,” inspired by the popular Tom Cruise action movie, featuring the governor in a flight jacket while walking around an air base.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your governor speaking,” DeSantis says in the commercial. “Today’s training evolution: dogfighting, taking on the corporate media.”
Nationally, the all-but-certain Senate race between Demings and Rubio in the fall is one of the most-watched races in the nation that could tip the balance of the evenly divided Senate.
Demings, first elected to Congress in 2017, is a 27-year-veteran of the Orlando Police Department who rose to chief of police for one of the largest forces in the state. She was among the top contenders to become Biden’s vice president in 2020 and was a House manager during the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
Her candidacy against Rubio has garnered donations from across the country, raising more than $47 million.
Rubio, a two-term senator first elected in 2010, has more than $36 million in fundraising.
On Tuesday night, Rubio held a joint press conference with DeSantis.
“The Democratic party has been taken over by the radical left, the laptop liberals and Marxist misfits,” he said.
Demings had three primary challengers: William Sanchez, a lawyer with a Department of Justice background focusing on poverty issues; Ricardo De La Fuente, second-generation immigrant businessman and political newcomer; and attorney Brian Rush, a centrist former state representative and youth football coach.
However, Demings’ fundraising and poll numbers vastly outweighed that of her Democratic opponents.
Florida is a closed primary state, which means that only voters who are registered members of a political party may vote for their respective party’s candidates in a primary election.
The state’s voter rolls list 5,194,845 Republicans and 4,963,930 voters who identify as Democrats.
According to the most recent data from the Florida Division of Elections, more than 1.32 million Floridians voted in Tuesday’s primary.
Despite the lack of GOP challengers to DeSantis and Rubio, Republicans still showed up to the polls on Tuesday for a series of congressional races, including a handful in South Florida.
One such voter, Jose Amores, showed up to a Miami-Dade County precinct at the Westchester Regional Library to vote a straight Republican ticket.
“I’m voting only for Republican candidates,” said Amores, a Cuban-American. “I don’t want what we have anymore. I want people that want to move forward and better our country.”
He added DeSantis is “doing a great job.”
A few miles west, at the Kendale Lakes Branch Library, Lorela Escobar voiced similar sentiments.
“I am voting for all Republican candidates,” said Escobar, a Columbian native. “I support Trump and DeSantis. They support the truth and they have unmasked many corrupt Democrats.”
“Democrats have lied to us left and right with the COVID-19 vaccines,” she added.
Caridad Figueroa Perdomo, a Republican who voted at the West Kendall Regional Library, said that she’s always supported the Republican candidates ever since she left Cuba.
“I am tired of the Democrats’ politics,” she said. “They are all liars, and they are making our beautiful country fall apart.”
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