Charlie Crist or Nikki Fried? Florida Democrats to decide who would be best to face Gov. DeSantis

Floridians and Gov. Ron DeSantis will soon learn the identity of his general election opponent. Who will Democratic voters choose?

The Democratic primary pits U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former governor as a Republican, against Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is currently Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat. The winner will face DeSantis in November. 

Crist last served in statewide office from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican governor. He lost a 2010 race for U.S. Senate as an independent and a 2014 run for governor as a Democrat.

FOX 13's political editor Craig Patrick said they align on many issues. Both have mostly attacked each other based on things they’ve said or done in the past.

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For a lot of Democratic voters, this race comes down to who they think has the best chance of beating DeSantis, and the combination of polls, endorsements, and campaign contributions suggests they’re leaning Crist. But polls have previously proven to be wrong.

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For the first time in modern history, Florida has more registered Republicans — nearly 5.2 million — than Democrats, who have nearly 5 million registered voters. 

Fried serves as the only Democrat in statewide office. And Republicans have no primary competition for four of those five positions – governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general and chief financial officer — which are all held by GOP incumbents.

READ: One-on-one with Nikki Fried: Her views from marijuana to home insurance crisis

DeSantis emerged from a narrow victory four years ago to become one of the most prominent Republicans in politics. His relatively light touch in handling the pandemic and his eagerness to lean into divides over race, gender and LGBTQ rights have resonated with many Republican voters who see DeSantis as a natural heir to former President Donald Trump.

His reelection effort is widely assumed to be a precursor to a presidential run in 2024, adding to a sense of urgency among Democrats.

One of the biggest differentiators between Crist and Fried is the tone they bring to the race. While both have taken some hard swings at each other, and both sharply criticize Governor DeSantis, Crist has emphasized his reputation of maintaining a tone of politeness and civility in public discourse, while Fried has emphasized her fighting skills in the political arena. 

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Crist said his approach will not cost him in terms of visibility on social media or in the volley of attacks in a potential matchup with Governor DeSantis.  

"I think there is a thirst and a yearning among Floridians, among Americans, frankly, for a return to decency," said Crist. "I mean, we elected Joe Biden, president of the United States, largely on that issue. We had chaos previous to his election. He had been a seasoned, respected, trusted public servant for years, for decades, you know, serving in the U.S. Senate from Delaware, then Vice President under President Barack Obama, an extraordinary man, a very decent man, a man with great empathy. And who could have more empathy than somebody like Joe Biden being through what he's been through and losing so many family members."

Fried has repeatedly called Crist a "nice guy," but says Florida "needs a fighter". 

"The issues that we're dealing with today are so fundamental to who we are as a country, who we are as patriots, fighting for democracy, fighting for freedom, and the things between voting rights, between abortion rights, affordability of our state, that the Democrats are looking for somebody to stand up knowing that we're against a guy who has bullied everybody, has been divisive, has had retribution on anybody who crosses his path," Fried said. 

FROM 2019: Nikki Fried is the first female agriculture commissioner for Florida

Fried said she’s been "in the trenches" standing up to Governor DeSantis day-in-and-day-out since becoming Commissioner of Agriculture and said, "somebody is going to stand up for what we believe in, and that's going to be me in this primary." 

Still, if Crist were to win the Democratic primary, she said she would support him in the Governor’s race. 

"I will do everything in my power to make sure a Democrat wins that governor’s office," Fried said.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report