Those looking for surprises in Tuesday’s Florida primaries were disappointed. Democrat voters chose St. Petersburg Congressman and former Florida governor Charlie Crist to run against Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Orlando Congresswoman and former Orlando police chief Val Demings to go against Sen. Marco Rubio.
Crist cruised to a win over Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. With 94 percent of the vote in, he led Fried by 59.8 percent to 35.3 percent. Two also-rans got less than 3 percent each. The election was called for Crist well before the 7 o’clock games reached the seventh inning stretch. (Demings’ race could have been called any day last week.)
In the Senate contest, again with 94 percent of votes counted, Demings was taking 84.3 percent over three also-rans. It was no contest in both races. But these two need to enjoy celebrating tonight. I don’t like the chances of either Democrat in November.
Political polls are notoriously unreliable these days, for a host of reasons. (A subject for another day.) Polls published in the final week before the primaries showed results varying from Crist having nearly a 30-point lead over Fried to Fried with a four-point margin over Crist. But polls of a DeSantis–Crist matchup have been much more consistent and give Crist little cause for optimism. Most show DeSantis with a six- to 10-point lead. Not an insurmountable lead, but it’s hard to see how a weak candidate like Crist makes up this ground. In fact, as Crist and DeSantis show their respective games during the campaign, that margin will likely widen. The prospect of a Democrat defeating the popular DeSantis is remote enough that national Democrats decided last November not to spend any money on the race.
The easy Crist win is a puzzler to those who’ve followed Florida politics for a long time, which includes my own self. He’s 66 and has held various offices in Florida since the early ’90s but has no record of achievement in any of them. He’s lost three statewide elections — one as a Republican, one as an independent, and one as a Democrat — the only politician to perform this dubious hat trick. Perhaps Democrat voters decided DeSantis was going to win in any case, so Crist might as well lose the election as he’s so good at it.
Fried, 44, currently the Democrats’ only statewide office holder in Florida, is a progressive in a party that is increasingly female and minority. When she announced for the office, she was expected to do better. Wave of the future and all that. I thought she would win. But Democrat voters went for the old white guy who’s lost his last two statewide elections instead of the young woman who won hers. Even the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, endorsed Crist. Florida’s largest gay rights group, the Florida Sierra Club, and the Florida AFL-CIO also kicked the woman to the curb to climb aboard the rickety Crist bandwagon. Not even EMILY’s List showed up to back Fried. Democrat voters must not be reading their own copy.
The Demings–Rubio race is not quite as long a shot as Crist–DeSantis. But most polls show Rubio ahead. He’s a solid campaigner, strong with Hispanics, and should hold the upper hand in the important issues of inflation, border security, and rising crime, this last even with Demings’ police background. Her consistent support of the Left’s agenda undermines her credibility on all of these issues. She’s made a great deal out of Rubio’s strong pro-life positions, hardly a disqualifier with a large fraction of Florida voters, but seems to have little else beyond being pro-abortion to run on.
Republican chances to retake the Senate this year are not as good as their chances in the House. But every indication is that Rubio will hold this seat for the GOP. Florida has a majority Republican registration for the first time in its history. And the leader of the Democrat Party, on the organizational chart if not in practice, is roughly as popular as jock itch in the Sunshine State. This bodes well for both Rubio and DeSantis, neither of whom faced primary opposition Tuesday.