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Charlie Crist to Face Gov. DeSantis in Florida This Fall

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida Democrats selected Representative Charlie Crist as their nominee for governor on Tuesday, betting that the previous Republican governor who campaigned on a return to political decency was their best bet to attempt to defeat Gov. Ron DeSantis, the polarizing Republican incumbent.

Mr. Crist’s blowout victory sets up the final election against Mr. DeSantis as a contest between a centrist and a hard-right conservative, with Democrats believing that the well-known and peaceable Mr. Crist can attract independent voters and Republicans who’re fed up with Mr. DeSantis’s aggressive right-wing policies.

“They desire a governor who cares about them, who solves real problems, who preserves our freedom,” Mr. Crist told supporters gathered in his hometown, St. Petersburg, as he pivoted quickly to attacking Mr. DeSantis. “Not a bully who divides us and takes our freedom away.”

But Mr. DeSantis is a formidable foe, having built his national profile throughout the coronavirus pandemic as a Republican desperate to fight public health experts. His political rise has made him a favourite to hunt the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and helped him amass greater than $130 million for his re-election campaign, an eye-popping amount that Democrats are usually not expected to return near matching.

Mr. DeSantis didn’t face a primary challenger but still campaigned for down-ballot candidates and commenced a series of highly produced television ads, including a national spot on Monday inspired by the film “Top Gun,” with Mr. DeSantis, clad in a pilot jacket, “dogfighting” against “the company media,” which he continuously portrays as his foil.

He has also reminded Floridians at every turn that he refused to impose coronavirus lockdowns for very long in 2020, a position that thrust Mr. DeSantis into the national highlight.

“They’ve opposed every decision I’ve made to maintain this state open,” Mr. DeSantis said of Democrats on Tuesday. “To avoid wasting their jobs. To maintain kids in class. To avoid wasting businesses.”

Within the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Representative Val B. Demings of Orlando, who had only nominal opposition, handily won the nomination to face off against Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican.

In Florida’s congressional primaries, far-right Republicans won in a lot of races on Tuesday night. Many at the moment are favored to win in November; Mr. DeSantis and Republicans within the State Legislature redrew House districts this yr to strongly favor the G.O.P., leaving few competitive general election contests in a state known not way back for its abundance of them.

Representative Matt Gaetz from the Florida Panhandle defeated Mark Lombardo, a Marine Corps veteran and retired FedEx executive. Cory Mills, an Army veteran and conservative commentator won in a suburban Orlando district that the Republicans are expected to win in the autumn. And the Republican primary in Mr. Crist’s district within the Tampa Bay area, which was redrawn to favor the G.O.P., was won by Anna Paulina Luna, who was endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump.

In a single vibrant spot for progressives, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a 25-year-old activist from Orlando, bested nine other Democrats, including former Representatives Corrine Brown and Alan Grayson, in an open district within the Orlando area. Mr. Frost, who’s Afro-Cuban, could be the primary Gen Z member of Congress.

Florida Democrats went into Tuesday knowing that their candidates for governor had raised far less money than Mr. DeSantis and that their party infrastructure was removed from robust compared with Republicans.

Mr. Crist won a convincing victory over Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner, who had solid herself as a fresh option in a state where Democrats have fallen short in election after election and felt little optimism about their probabilities in November. Unofficial results showed Mr. Crist leading by such a large margin that the race was called when the ultimate polls within the state closed at 8 p.m.

“No one ever broke the glass ceiling on the primary pitch,” Ms. Fried said in Fort Lauderdale after conceding to Mr. Crist. “We’re going to make Ron DeSantis a one-term governor and a zero-term president of the USA.”

Florida has trended an increasing number of Republican since President Barack Obama won the state twice by constructing an enormous organization that no candidate or party leader has been capable of replicate. President Biden lost Florida by greater than 3 percentage points, the most important margin in a marquee race since 2004.

The last incumbent Florida governor to lose re-election was Bob Martinez, a Republican, who conceded to Lawton Chiles in 1990. No Democrat has won the governorship since Mr. Chiles secured re-election in 1994.

Mr. Crist has lost two statewide races since he was first elected governor in 2006, including one as an independent before he switched to the Democratic Party in 2012. But some Democrats think a centrist like Mr. Crist would have succeeded against Mr. DeSantis in 2018, had voters nominated Gwen Graham, a former congresswoman, in the first. As an alternative, Democrats selected Andrew Gillum, who captivated them along with his progressive platform and charismatic personality but lost the final election by about 32,000 votes.

“There’s a pragmatism from the Democratic perspective that claims, ‘Yes, we wish to fall in love, but we’d slightly win,’ and at this point that’s the fundamental calculus driving people,” said Fernand R. Amandi, a Democratic pollster based in Miami.

Democrats see a narrow path to defeating Mr. DeSantis, in attempting to solid him as a divisive leader who plays up his policies as promoting freedom despite restricting the rights of girls, Black and Hispanic Floridians and the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

Additionally they hope to steer voters that Mr. DeSantis is guilty for the rising costs of living, especially in relation to housing, electricity and insurance — issues that Democrats say have been ignored as Mr. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have fought cultural battles.

“I now not recognize the leaders of the Republican Party,” Mr. Crist said on Tuesday night. “They’re extremists. They wish to turn back the clock on our freedom. They’re attempting to undermine our democracy in ways nobody could have imagined.

“That stops here,” he continued. “That stops now. And it stops with our Florida.”

Ms. Fried initially struggled to home in on an efficient message, though it crystallized after the Supreme Court eliminated federal protections for abortion rights. No woman has ever been elected Florida governor, and Ms. Fried ran on the assumption that a female nominee would offer voters a clearer contrast against Mr. DeSantis.

But with limited money to advertise within the state’s expensive, urban television markets, Ms. Fried was unable to introduce herself to enough Democratic voters. Mr. Crist made her task tougher when he solid her as a business lobbyist who was cozy with Republicans. Each questioned one another’s liberal bona fides, though the competition was defined less by sharp ideological differences and more by contrasts in style.

Mr. Crist led the Democratic race from the beginning, declaring his candidacy before Ms. Fried, the one Democrat currently holding statewide elected office. He devoted himself to reaching out to county and state leaders, and the early work paid off: Mr. Crist amassed more endorsements from Democratic officials, labor unions and native newspapers than his rival. During campaign stops, he posed for photos with individuals who greeted him simply as “Charlie.”

Michael Joseph, a city commissioner in North Miami Beach, endorsed Mr. Crist after the congressman traveled to see him last yr, knowing that he needed the support of the Haitian American community that Mr. Joseph represents.

“He’s very personable and he remembers your name,” Mr. Joseph said. “I’ve never seen DeSantis reach out to different communities. Charlie didn’t have to return to my neighborhood to have a burger — but he did.”

Maggie Astor and Jennifer Medina contributed reporting.

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