(JTA) — Charlie Crist, a former two-term Republican governor of Florida who became a Democrat, trounced Nikki Fried, the state’s Jewish agriculture commissioner, in the Democratic primary for governor.
The outcome ends the ambitions for now of the self-described “good Jewish girl from Miami” to become Florida’s first woman governor. But it means that a well known figure with some crossover appeal will be challenging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has faced criticism from Jewish groups and others for his handling of antisemitism in his state and right-wing circles.
Fried, whose campaign emphasized her Jewish upbringing and her involvement in the Jewish community, pledged to campaign for Crist following his lopsided 60-35 win.
Democrats have new hopes of wounding DeSantis’s hopes of a presidential run with a base energized by the Supreme Court’s reversal earlier this year of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent that enshrined a woman’s right to an abortion. Since the court’s 6-3 decision ending abortion protections, Democratic turnout in primaries has been strong, a potential bellwether of a robust performance in general elections.
As in much of the United States, Florida’s Jews mostly tend to vote for Democrats, but a growing population of Orthodox Jews, who more often vote for Republicans, could change that dynamic. DeSantis’ Jewish supporters in Florida and nationally cite his signing of legislation opposing antisemitism among their reasons for backing him.
But Democrats believe that between abortion and far-right extremism, they have a winning strategy to convince Florida’s Jews to vote for Crist. They plan to tie DeSantis to the Republican Party’s right, which he has courted since emerging during his 2018 run as an acolyte of former president Donald Trump. DeSantis campaigned this week in Pennsylvania with that state’s GOP nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, who has been tied to antisemites and criticized by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Ron DeSantis brought his dangerous brand of extremism to Pennsylvania to support a man directly connected to white supremacists and antisemites,” the Jewish Democratic Council of America said in a tweet this week. “Their choice to campaign together only serves to underscore the danger of their extremists ties,” Halie Soifer, the JDCA director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a text.
Crist, who served as Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011, left the GOP in 2010 partly because of the turn toward the right the party took that year. He was subsequently elected to Congress as a Democrat.
Crist’s ex-wife, Carole Rome, is Jewish and they remain on good terms. He placed a mezuzah on the governor’s office door in 2007.
Congressional primaries also saw victories for two of the state’s three Jewish Democrats, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Lois Frankel. The other Jewish incumbent, Ted Deutch, is retiring to lead the American Jewish Committee, and Jared Moskowitz, the state’s former director of emergency management, won the primary to replace him in a south Florida district that is likely to go Democrat.
Meanwhile, Laura Loomer, who has been banned from a number of social media platforms because of her extreme views, narrowly lost a Republican primary in central Florida to Daniel Webster. Loomer campaigned as a self-described Christian Nationalist, while maintaining her Jewish identity.