(The Hill) – Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) is projected to win Florida’s Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday, setting up a general election matchup against Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican heavyweight who’s seen as a potential 2024 presidential contender.
The Associated Press called the race at 8 p.m.
Crist, who won the governor’s mansion as a Republican more than 15 years ago, defeated state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic nominating contest.
His victory sets him up for his second general election campaign to reclaim the office since he vacated the governor’s mansion in 2011, having opted against running for a second consecutive term.
He lost a bid for governor to incumbent Rick Scott in 2014 before winning a seat in the U.S. House representing St. Petersburg in 2016.
Throughout her campaign, Fried, the lone statewide elected Democrat, sought to cast herself as a new face for Florida Democrats, who have struggled for years to fix a crumbling party infrastructure and reverse a painful losing streak.
But in nominating Crist, Florida Democrats turned to a familiar face to help them reclaim the governor’s mansion after more than 20 years of being locked out, convinced that his brand of collegial, compromise-minded politics can help win over moderates and independents turned off by DeSantis’s combative political style.
Defeating DeSantis, however, is shaping up to be a herculean task.
The Florida governor has a swelling national profile, is a rising star among conservatives and has so far raised more than $100 million for his reelection campaign — far more than anything that Crist has. Recent polling shows DeSantis’ approval rating above water, a positive sign for an incumbent seeking a second term in office.
Of course, there’s still time for things to change. Despite his popularity among the Republican Party’s conservative base, DeSantis isn’t immune to controversy. And with the Democratic primary now out of the way, the party still has a chance to coalesce around Crist ahead of the November election.
Crist said on Monday that Florida Democrats are planning to hold a unity rally in South Florida later this week, though Fried hasn’t yet committed to endorsing Crist.