Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried blasted Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s White House ambitions as they squared off Thursday in the first and only Florida gubernatorial primary debate.
The candidates are vying to become the first Democrat to occupy the Florida Governor’s Mansion in more than 20 years, but both trail DeSantis by a significant margin in recent polling — Crist by 8 points and Fried by nearly 13 points, according to RealClearPolitics. The two Democrats clashed at times, but both hit DeSantis harder than each other during the debate held in South Florida ahead of the state’s Aug. 23 primary.
“He is a disaster of a governor, he’s the worst governor in modern Florida history,” Crist said of DeSantis. “I know what Floridians want and I know they’re hurting, and this governor doesn’t feel it, he doesn’t care about it, he doesn’t understand it.”
Crist, a former Republican, added that DeSantis, a rising GOP star, “cares only about his future and more about the White House than your house.”
Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, also blasted DeSantis’s burgeoning national profile and took credit for being “the first” to call the popular governor a “dictator.”
“I was the first one in 2020 after an atrocious legislative session to call him a dictator, because that’s what he is,” Fried said.
“He was already looking at his national aspirations,” Fried added. “He was more concerned about getting on Fox News than making sure that we are protecting the people of our state.”
Fried trails Crist in recent polling by more than 16 points, according to RealClearPolitics. She accused the congressman of “failed leadership” during his time as Florida’s governor more than a decade ago, blasted his credibility on abortion rights, and tied his policies as governor to the current policies of DeSantis.
“I have been pro-choice my entire life,” Fried argued. “I have made sure that I’ve stood on the side of women. Charlie cannot say the same thing. He has been pro-life his entire life, including today, including that when he had the chance when he was governor, he appointed the most radical extremists into the Supreme Court.”
“Unfortunately, so many of these policy initiatives that [DeSantis] is fighting on today was Charlie’s when he was a Republican,” said Fried. “That is unacceptable. That is why we have to win.”
Crist called Fried’s attacks a sign of “desperation” and argued that he is “right for women” and “right for pro-choice.”
“And let’s understand what’s going on here. You’re losing this campaign,” Crist said. “It’s time for desperation. And now, it’s on full display all over the state of Florida. And I’m sorry to see that.”
The winner of next month’s primary will take on a well-funded DeSantis, who reportedly has a $130 million war chest between his campaign and the Friends of Ron DeSantis super PAC. Fried and Crist reportedly only have a combined $10.8 million in cash on hand.