Takeaways from the Democratic gubernatorial debate between Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Florida Congressman Charlie Crist held their first and possibly only debate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The two are considered the frontrunners for the nomination.
Fried is behind in both polling and fundraising and needed a strong showing in the debate. She jabbed Crist hard over his perceived “flip flopping” from a Republican to a Democrat and supporting efforts to ban or limit abortion during his time as a Republican.
Crist’s decision to hold to only one debate during the primary has remained a sticking point.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is unlikely to agree to a debate with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee because he has the high ground—he is a nationally known name, with $100 million in his campaign accounts and it’s a midterm year that strongly favors Republicans due to inflation concerns, and President Joe Biden’s deepening unpopularity.
Tom Flanigan: On Capitol Report— the head editorial editor for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and regular Capitol reporter, Steve Bosquet. Joining us here, Steve, Happy Friday to you. I hear you were on debate watch [Thursday] night between Nikki fried and Charlie Christ, the two Democratic contenders for Florida Governor. What happened during that encounter?
Steve Bousquet: Nikki fried had to score a knockout punch against Charlie Crist because every poll says she's trailing. And she's far behind in fundraising. And I don't think she did it. She drew a little bit of blood. But Charlie Crist held his own, and frankly, I thought looked a little more gubernatorial. Let's face it, he was governor so people can see him in the position because he held it for four years. This was the only televised debate. Charlie Crist wanted to avoid situations like this, where the challenger stands on equal footing with him. This was Fried's best chance to score points, and I really don't think she did much.
Tom Flanigan: So heading into what is likely to be a possibly, potentially, a Charlie Crist victory here in the August 23 primary election. Whoever wins goes on to take on a sitting Republican governor who has perhaps the largest war chest in Florida history heading into a general election, and absolutely no opposition--would not sound like a recipe for victory when it comes to the Democratic contender, whomever he or she might be.
Steve Bousquet: Correct. This is another in a continuing series of uphill fights for Democrats. What's different about this race because DeSantis is such a plausible presidential candidate in 2024. This will be the most watched governor's race in the country, by far, because our other big state neighbors don't really have a competitive race in this cycle. Only Florida does. [Ron] DeSantis is a household name everywhere. So is Charlie Crist for that matter with the national media. Here's a guy who's making his seventh statewide campaign in something like 24 years, but the odds are strongly in favor of the Republicans. And on top of everything you've named, you've got the added overlay of this being a Joe Biden midterm election. Everyone knows the first midterm of a new president is always fraught with trouble, and you got the added difficulty of all these inflationary problems we're having in the country.
Tom Flanigan: Steve, one thing I have not seen is any kind of speculation as to whether or not there will be a debate between the Democratic winner of the primary and Governor DeSantis. What are you hearing?
Steve Bousquet: I doubt it. Ron DeSantis seems to be openly hostile to debating now, he did debate Andrew Gillum in 2018 [and] there were missteps and misstatements there that got DeSantis in trouble, but he did debate Andrew Gillum on neutral territory. In this case, DeSantis is firmly in the driver's seat. [He's] got $100 million in the bank. DeSantis has no motivation to debate the Democrats in this race because again, you're giving an underdog candidate exposure that he [DeSantis] doesn't want to give them.
Tom Flanigan: And, as conventional political wisdom goes nowadays, ‘you can't get hurt for what you don't say.'
Steve Bousquet: That's right. Here's the big question mark about this election: Is the ability of Democrats to channel the outrage over the abortion ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court and the repeated and unending mass shootings. Can that be somehow channeled into enough outrage and motivation to get a lot of Democrats to the polls? It's going to take an unprecedented effort. And we're not seeing dramatic surges in requests for vote by mail ballots by Democratic primary voters in the big counties. It's going to take something of that magnitude to change the dynamics.
Tom Flanigan: And already it's being teed up. It would seem not just in Florida, but nationwide to once again be distrustful of mail ballots, so that could become once again a factor in the upcoming election.
Steve Bousquet: Absolutely. Democrats are pushing voting by mail. Republicans are not. Turnout is everything [in a] midterm election, [and] it's hard to motivate Democratic voters in a midterm.
Tom Flanigan: Thank you so much for great analysis and insight in not just the Democratic debate last night, but also giving us a foretaste of what may be heading our way when it comes to the general election in November. Thank you, Steve.
Steve Bousquet: All right. Thank you, sir.
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