- Charlie Crist’s win was impressive, but Dems have reason to worry
- GOP turnout swamps Dems, despite no gubernatorial draw
- Nikki Fried made abortion rights a central theme of her campaign; she lost by an embarrassing margin
- Republican flamethrowers in two conservative primaries came up short, signaling GOP voters want less rhetoric and more action
- Matt Gaetz vs. Rebekah Jones in the political performance art showdown of the year
Crist unites the party, but Dems have 100,000 reasons to worry
Give credit to Charlie Crist for his impressive 59-35 blowout win over Nikki Fried on Tueday night. Pollsters called the race pretty much spot on, that is, except for the University of North Florida, which should probably exit the polling business altogether after a poll showing Fried with a 4 point lead just a week ago.
Crist’s win sent a strong signal that Democrats are willing to put aside ideological purity and unite in their desire to defeat incumbent Governor Ron DeSantis in November. But before they get too excited at the prospect of yet another statewide campaign for Charlie Crist, they should take a look at the overall turnout numbers between the top-of-ticket Democrat race and the top-of-ticket GOP contest.
Of course Wilton Simpson had an easier opponent in the GOP ag commissioner primary than Crist faced in the Dem primary for governor, which helped Simpson claim the crown as the largest vote-getter of the night with more than 1 million votes cast for him. But the bigger takeaway is that total votes cast number in each of the top-of-ticket races between Republicans and Democrats. Nearly 1.6 million GOP voters turned out in force to cast ballots for ag commissioner. Meanwhile, the much higher-profile Democrat gubernatorial primary attracted fewer than 1.5 million voters. That’s a base advantage of 100,000 Republican voters, a number that far exceeds the victory margin DeSantis won by in 2018.
Democrats don’t want “something new” after all
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried based her campaign on abortion rights, blasting Crist repeatedly for being a wishy-washy, say-anything politician who has, at one point or another in his career, been on both sides of just about every controversial political issue. And media outlets around the state and nation have repeatedly credited the overturning of Roe vs. Wade as a major Democrat inflection point in the mid-term election cycle, a catalyst that, news stories and polls suggested, would spur progressives across the country to turn out and vote.
They didn’t show up for Nikki Fried, though.
Her humiliating performance at the ballot box produced one of the more lopsided open primaries in recent memory, a particularly shocking outcome in light of the fact that Fried was, just four years ago, the face of the Democratic Party in Florida.
Abortion may not be the motivator Democrats hoped
The contest between Fried and Crist helped underscore just how little abortion rights matter when it comes to driving voters to the ballot box. Sure, Crist campaigned on the issue, too, but his credibility on abortion was significantly lower than Fried’s own, and she made their differences on issue a centerpiece of her campaign.
Perhaps voters believed Crist’s explanation about his flip flopping on abortion and other issues, but the mere fact that Fried did everything possible to dissuade voters from falling for Crist’s sophistry speaks volumes. Fried’s attempt to use abortion as a central theme, for whatever reason, clearly failed to mobilize the troops.
Rhetoric and viral video isn’t enough in Central Florida
Laura Loomer, the right-wing internet provocateur, fell short in her well-funded campaign to unseat incumbent Dan Webster in FL-11. Similarly, Anthony Sabatini, a flame-throwing conservative state lawmaker, failed to attract enough support to come out on top in FL-7. Both candidates had garnered support from conservative icons closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, but the winning candidates in both contests were also considered quite conservative, if perhaps a bit more measured in their rhetoric.
As one Tallahassee insider put it on Tuesday night: “Loomer and Sabatini won on Twitter, but they lost in the real world.”
Speaking of political performance artists – Rebekah Jones advances to face Matt Gaetz
Despite the failure of “firebrand” rhetoric in Central Florida, it’s alive and well in Florida’s 1st Congressional District, where drama queen Rebekah Jones managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on Tuesday after facing down a federal judge only a week before to keep her name on the ballot.
The win for Jones sets up a face off against GOP incumbent Matt Gaetz, which should prove at least interesting even though it won’t be competitive. A debate between Jones, an expert at calling attention to herself, and Gaetz, who has a reputation for not pulling any punches, could prove one of the hottest tickets of the election cycle.