Crist and Fried each make their case to be governor as the Democrats meet in Tampa

TAMPA — Florida Democrats seemed to get the annual gathering they wanted on Saturday: a party that ran out completely with a slate of high-profile speakers, eager to challenge the ruling Republicans. Ron DeSantis and Senator. Marco Rubio and a conference of conservative mothers gather across the street for a contrast.

However, tensions were rising between the top contenders vying for the nomination against DeSantis.

Behind the scenes, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was directing her criticism at the US Representative. Charlie Crist, referring to the former Republican’s nickname in the mid-1990s as “Chain Charlie’s Gang,” in reference to his support as a senator went on record for a measure that revived the practice of making prisoners wear chains together while working along highways on household chores such as bake in a bakery. “We’re not talking about the ’40s or ’50s or ’60s, we’re talking about the ’90s,” she said.

“Republicans hate Charlie, Independents don’t trust Charlie, and Charlie can’t mobilize our base. We’ll actually see the Democrats’ biggest loss in Florida history if Charlie tops the list, and everyone will fall,” Fred warned in an interview with The Times/Herald. Don’t worry about my past record. I have black friends,” he tells you he’s not ready for this moment, that he hasn’t developed and doesn’t understand what he did.

Recent polls in the Democratic primary show that Fried is significantly behind Crest before August 3. 23 elections.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried speaks on stage during the Florida Democratic Party's Blue Leadership Gala on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Tampa.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried speaks on stage during the Florida Democratic Party’s Blue Leadership Gala on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Crist, who served as the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011 and eventually became a Democrat, on Saturday defended his support for the policy of serial gangs, saying in an interview that it was important at the time to tackle crime statistics that were getting national attention. and international.

The reason is to show that breaking the law has consequences. That’s it. It has nothing to do with anyone’s skin color. It was just about someone’s criminal record. And at the time, Florida was number one in violent crime in America,” Krist said. “I mean, it wasn’t that complicated to figure out why we had a problem with crime. And so we tackled it, we stopped it, not completely, but reduced it. …that’s the rationale behind it. That’s it.”

At one point, Krist tried to speak at an abortion-access rally across the street and was driven out by protesters who chanted “Vote blue isn’t enough.”

Some of the tension between the two campaigns was rather innocent.

In the aisles around the JW Marriot ballrooms, where tables were set with merchandise for Crist and Fried on the other side, volunteers from both campaigns blasted dueling playlists at each other throughout Saturday. Campaign staff laughed about which campaign wore the most for their candidate’s gift. When Crest’s campaign handed out a coffee cart with mugs with its campaign logo on it, Fried’s supporters took the free coffee and slapped the mugs with its purple logo stickers.

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Related: In Tampa, two events – and two visions for Florida – bring together Democrats and Mothers for Freedom

But even the candidates’ most ardent supporters couldn’t deny that the primaries would ultimately not be as important as the effort to beat DeSantis, who has far more money to spend than Crist or Fried and commands more national attention.

“I am really torn about who I am going to vote in the primaries because I like both candidates. I just need democracy,” said Alize Shelton, president of the West Volusia Women’s Club. Vote for the Democrats anyway.”

Florida Governor Nikki Fried's sign appears during the annual Blue Leadership Gathering and Florida Democratic Party fundraiser on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Tampa.
Florida Governor Nikki Fried’s sign appears during the annual Blue Leadership Gathering and Florida Democratic Party fundraiser on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

pastor. James T. Golden, a state committee member from Manatee County and a Fried supporter, said he thinks Fried is the better candidate in a year when Democrats hope to overturn Roe v. Wade will motivate their base to vote for them in office. Golden said his number one priority was to vote for DeSantis. Fried attacked Crist’s positions on abortion during his time as a Republican.

“I think she’s been very supportive of the issues affecting minorities in Florida,” Golden said of Fried, adding, “What we’re really saying is that whether it’s crest or stir-fry, the state is going to be better off than it is under DeSantis.”

Meanwhile, during Saturday’s caucus meetings, Crest posted a number of trusted agents to defend his record and promote his candidacy.

Congressman Charlie Crist speaks on stage during the Florida Democratic Party's Blue Leadership Gala on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Tampa.
Congressman Charlie Crist speaks on stage during the Florida Democratic Party’s Blue Leadership Gala on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Orlando Reb. Carlos Guillermo Smith, speaking during the LGBT election meeting, offered Crist, at first he was “skeptical” about the governor’s race, as a “progressive progressive.”

“We all have pasts and we all come with baggage, including me. Did I tell you I was straight?” Smith said, laughing. “And so is the pasta before it is boiled.”

He continued, “Second, and most importantly, there is a gubernatorial candidate who has the best chance ever of removing the governor. Ron DeSantis. I know each of these criteria will be hotly debated among Democrats. But I tell you in my heart that I believe that person is Charlie Crist.” .

Related: At Moms for Liberty event in Tampa, bid to win school board elections

Speaker of the House of Representatives coming from the minority MP. Ventress Driskill said she endorsed Crist, too, because she believed in his evolution from a Republican to the leading Democratic contender for governor. But speaking to the Black Democratic caucus, by far the most active and attended session of the convention, Driskill said Democrats need to stay focused on sending messages to voters before the general election.

You make the Republicans own this failure. They’ve been in charge of the House, Senate, and Governor’s Palace since 1998,” Driskill said.

“When people ask you why the cost of rent is so high, blame DeSantis. If they say gas is too high, they ask you why, DeSantis says. … “Yeah, you know, that’s the curse of DeSantis running our schools on Earth.” We can. Let’s play their game, too.”

Tampa Bay Times political editor Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

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