Jul 22, 2022 - Politics

Florida's Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist face off before primaries

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried smiles as she sits behind a microphone.
Nikki Fried (left) and Charlie Crist during a gubernatorial forum in June. Photo: Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Can a Democrat beat Ron DeSantis to become Florida's governor this fall?

In their only debate before the state's Aug. 23 primary, Democratic candidate and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried faced off Thursday against U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, the state's former Republican governor who has since switched parties.

The lowdown: Crist has changed his stance on several issues, including gay marriage and abortion, over the years. Fried, a staunch supporter of marijuana legalization, positions herself as firmly progressive.

Get ready to vote: The August primary election will determine who becomes the Democratic nominee to take on DeSantis on Nov. 8. The deadline to register to vote is July 25.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the debate:

On the housing crisis:

  • Fried said she'd declare a "housing emergency" on Day 1 to allow the state attorneys to go after "predatory landlords." She also criticized Crist for moving hundreds of millions of dollars out of a state trust fund for affordable housing while serving as governor.
  • Crist said his administration "had to make hard choices" about allocating funds during the Great Recession. "I made them and we saved 20,000 teachers their jobs," he said.

On abortion:

  • Crist said that every action he's taken as an elected official has been in defense of abortion rights. "As a member of Congress, I have a 100% rating by Planned Parenthood," he said.
  • Fried, who said she's always supported abortion rights, accused Crist of appointing "radical extremists" to the state Supreme Court when he was governor. If elected, Fried said she would declare a state of emergency to protect doctors and people seeking abortions from being prosecuted.

On guns:

  • Fried said she's worked with legislators to push for gun control initiatives, such as universal background checks.
  • Crist said he's sponsoring red-flag gun control legislation in Congress, which would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people considered to be a threat to themselves or others. Florida already has a red-flag law.

On the environment:

  • Crist said that if elected, he would return to the work he started as governor buying land to "restore the natural flow south of the water through the Everglades, through Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay."
  • Fried said she'd push progress on climate change, and touted her endorsement from the Democratic Environmental Caucus.

On Ron DeSantis:

  • Crist: "I'm a Democrat running to protect democracy. He's an autocrat running to become a dictator, and it's not right for Florida."
  • Fried: "I was the first one in 2020, after an atrocious legislative session, to call him a dictator. ... He's gone after people's rights to vote, rights to protest, going after our local governments, going after school boards and now he's going after our business communities. … I stand up against this bully every single day."
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