by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Florida governor’s race might not be the most competitive in the country, but for the Republican Party it might be the most important.
Former Gov Charlie Crist won the Democratic primary on Tuesday night, defeating state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried by a comfortable margin. The one-time Republican governor, who currently serves as a Democrat representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District, is now running to be the next Democratic governor.
It’s a revenge tour against his former party, as it now sets up a race against the Republican incumbent, Gov. Ron DeSantis.
If DeSantis somehow loses, or even wins reelection by an unimpressive margin, it could leave Trump as the last Florida man standing in the 2024 Republican White House sweepstakes.
Either way, DeSantis is testing the theory that you can govern on a populist conservative platform in a swing state — former President Barack Obama carried Florida twice — with the same gusto as if it were a safe red state. He is already predicting “the biggest Republican turnout this state has ever seen” in November.
DeSantis only won his first term by 0.4 points. That was in 2018, a wave election year for the Democrats. He also outperformed his poll numbers, as the RealClearPolitics polling average projected Democrat Andrew Gillum to be in the lead by 3.6 points. Of the last five polls included in the aggregation, DeSantis led only in the estimable Trafalgar survey.
None of this is to say that DeSantis should not be favored in what figures to be a much more favorable climate for Republicans than 2018, even with recent Democratic gains. But DeSantis is governing much more like Trump than Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in a state he only narrowly won. …