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Democratic gubernatorial candidates take aim at DeSantis

Rep. Charlie Crist vowed during a joint appearance to “immediately endorse” his party’s nominee if Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried or state Sen. Annette Taddeo wins the Aug. 23 primary.
Chris O'Meara
Rep. Charlie Crist vowed during a joint appearance to “immediately endorse” his party’s nominee if Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried or state Sen. Annette Taddeo wins the Aug. 23 primary.

With less than four months until the primary election, Congressman Charlie Crist is stressing a need for party unity among the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, who agree their priority is to stop Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the “culture wars” he has championed.

Leading the other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in fundraising, Crist vowed during a joint appearance Friday to “immediately endorse” his party’s nominee if Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried or state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, wins the Aug. 23 primary.

“He's bad for Florida,” Crist said of DeSantis during a Democratic Women's Clubs of Florida forum at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando.

“He's bad for people. He is horrible for women,” Crist, a former Republican governor who became a Democrat, added. “He's bad for public education. He's bad for the environment. It's bad for minorities. He's bad for voting rights. He's bad for civil rights. Is he good for anything? No. We know that. So, when the primary is over, we have to be a force that is unstoppable.”

Taddeo, who was Crist’s running mate when he unsuccessfully ran for governor against then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, said Democrats will have a candidate for Floridians to “vote for, not someone to vote against.”

Fried, who, based on an amalgamation of polls and fundraising, is running second to Crist, agreed with the unity message but didn’t make a similar pledge. Fried, whose campaign has been hitting Crist for his past stances while a Republican on issues such as abortion, pointed to the GOP’s hold of the top state offices and Legislature.

“It has been a long, long, almost three decades of one-party control of our state,” Fried said. “And so, we're not just running against Ron DeSantis, we are running against four consecutive Republican governors, 13 Senate presidents, 14 speakers of the House.”

Crist, Fried and Taddeo essentially agreed on a need to increase funding for public education and the environment and that lawmakers must address housing affordability across the state and enact more criminal justice reform.

They also backed upending a series of measures that Republican lawmakers passed this year. They said DeSantis, widely mentioned as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, is dangling the measures as red meat to Republican voters nationally at the expense of Florida’s future.

“He's doing this because he's more worried about being president,” Taddeo said. “But think about that for one second. Think about all the damage that these bills have brought on to our state, to our kids, to our teachers, to our minority communities and to our women. And yet, he only cares about being president.”

“His eyes are on Washington, D.C., and he is stepping on us every single day to get there,” Fried added.

As he’s done at other stops across the state, DeSantis opened a Levy County appearance Friday with more than 10 minutes focused on President Joe Biden and federal health and economic policies.

The Levy County stop, which was held to award local infrastructure grants, followed a trip Wednesday to Las Vegas in which DeSantis supported a friend running for U.S. Senate in Nevada. DeSantis also made a prime-time appearance Thursday on Fox News.

“Culture war” measures targeted by Democrats include what DeSantis has dubbed the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act” or Stop WOKE Act (HB 7), which would restrict the way race-related issues can be addressed in public schools and workplace training.

Also, they targeted an elections bill (SB 524) that includes creating a state office to investigate alleged voting irregularities; an education bill (HB 1557) that restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools; a bill (HB 5) that will prevent doctors from performing most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; and a bill (HB 1467) that increases scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials.

The Democratic contenders also pointed to a DeSantis announcement Friday that he expects before leaving office to approve a measure known as “constitutional carry,” which would end the need for concealed weapons licenses. Also, they cited his battles with Walt Disney Co. and a new congressional redistricting plan designed to help elect more Republicans.

Taddeo said DeSantis’ approach to governing is “what Maduro does in Venezuela.”

Fried took credit for being the “first person in 2020 that actually called him a dictator.”

Crist acknowledged that he personally has been “an ambitious man in my life. But blind ambition is not OK.”

“When you pass those kinds of laws and really only appeal to the hard-right, red-meat, Republican primary voter, not (the) general-election moderate Republicans, it's clear to me what he's doing,” Crist said. “It's completely transparent. He is much more concerned with Iowa voters than he is with Florida people.”

The winner of the Democratic primary will be at a huge financial disadvantage to DeSantis. Also, polls compiled by Real Clear Politics have DeSantis up on Crist by 8.8 percentage points and Fried by 12.8 percentage points.

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Jim Turner - News Service of Florida