ORLANDO, Fla. – On Aug. 23, Democrats will decide who will take on incumbent governor Ron DeSantis in the November general election.
Rep. Charlie Crist and Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, considered the frontrunners in the race, are in a heated fight for the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, little has been heard from candidates Cadance Daniel and Robert Willis.
Crist carries arguably the most name recognition in the race, but perhaps not as a Democrat. Crist was a longtime Republican who at one point was Florida’s governor. He then joined the Democratic Party.
Fried is currently the only Democrat to hold a statewide-elected office, which she won in a close race in 2018. Since then, she has positioned herself firmly in opposition to DeSantis on the Florida Cabinet.
The winner of this race will face DeSantis in November, along with Libertarian candidate Hector Roos, no party affiliate candidates Carmen Gimenez and Jodi Jeloudov, and write-in candidates Piotr Blass, Kyle Gibson and James Thompson. That race is open to all voters.
Here’s what you should know about the four Democratic candidates for governor.
A St. Petersburg native, Crist served in the Florida Legislature, as Florida education commissioner, and as Florida governor from 2007 to 2010, when he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost. He then ran for governor in 2014 as a Democrat, but lost to then-Gov. Rick Scott.
Crist for a long time described himself as a “Reagan Republican” — fiscally conservative, though socially more moderate than today’s conservative. He ran as a tough-on-crime candidate (in the Florida Legislature he acquired the name “Chain Gang Charlie” for his proposal to bring back chain gangs), and he appointed conservative judges when he was governor, but he was also known to buck the Republican-led Florida Legislature at times on issues like linking teacher pay to test scores (he vetoed that legislation).
He supported some restrictions on abortion, such as late-term abortion, but while in the governor’s office he vetoed a bill to require women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion. He described himself as “pro-choice, but not pro-abortion.”
Crist took flak from Republicans for standing with President Obama and even hugging him publicly during the Great Recession.
When Crist ran for U.S. Senate, the Florida Republican Party pulled back its support of Crist, who was overtaken in the polls by future Sen. Marco Rubio. Crist left the party and ran for Senate as an independent candidate, and he lost to Rubio in the general election.
In 2012 Crist joined the Democratic Party, saying he didn’t leave the Republican Party, the party left him.
He ran for governor against incumbent Rick Scott in 2014 but lost by a narrow margin.
Since then Crist has represented the 13th U.S. House district in St. Petersburg as a Democrat. Since his switch to the Democratic Party, he has voted with Democrats the majority of the time.
Cadance Daniel is a consultant and small business owner who hails from northern Florida. This is Daniel’s first foray into running for elected office. She is pushing for Medicaid expansion, regulating housing investors, stricter gun restrictions and lifting restrictions on reproductive rights.
Daniel is pushing for an economic energy stimulus package that will push green energy and a Florida fuel card to help when getting gas. She also supports prison reform, and expanding the rights of returning citizens.
Nikki Fried is a Miami native who touts herself as “something new” for Florida.
Fried’s first foray into statewide politics was the race for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture in 2018, in which she defeated Republican Matthew Caldwell.
Before that, Fried was a lawyer who worked for a time as a public defender before becoming a lobbyist. One of her top clients was the medical marijuana industry, and she ran for Ag commissioner on a platform of expanding access to medical marijuana in Florida.
Fried pushed to expand the growth of hemp for production uses in the state and tried to fight trade policies that hurt Florida’s agricultural industry under the United States Mexico Candidate Agreement.
The Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services handles a hodge podge of issues in Florida ranging from agriculture to school lunch programs to gun licenses to theme park ride inspection. Fried had to manage departments for all of those issues.
But as the only Democrat in the Florida Cabinet, Fried also used her position to advocate for Democratic policies, and frequently condemned legislation and actions supported by Gov. DeSantis.
Fried’s campaign has been about pushing herself as the true Democratic alternative to Gov. DeSantis. If she won she would be the first woman in the governor’s mansion, as well as the first Democrat since 1999 in the office. She is a frequent champion of liberal causes, from abortion to expanding Medicaid, though she has taken some flak from some progressives for her lobbying history.
Robert Willis is a Brevard County native and an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Cocoa. Willis said that he decided to get into politics after “years of broken promises from politicians.”
He says he is running to fix the school system in Florida, and also wants to take on homelessness. He also supports stronger gun laws (while supporting the 2 nd amendment), and is pro-choice.