Crist will have company in the quest for the Democratic nomination. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to recently win statewide in Florida, and Rep. Val Demings, a House impeachment manager, are considered likely to join him.
The Democratic nominee will have plenty of resources with which to take on the Republican incumbent, Ron DeSantis. Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison, whom Lindsey Graham defeated last year in spite of Harrison’s huge war chest, has said so. With Ron DeSantis being discussed as one of the front-runners on the Republican side for 2024, we can expect liberals from blue states to invest large amounts of money and human capital in the effort to defeat him.
It isn’t obvious, however, what lines of attack will work against the popular and successful DeSantis. Crist accused DeSantis of being “mean and cruel to children” by banning transgender athletes in women’s and girls sports. If this issue has resonance, it resonates in favor of DeSantis, I think.
Democrats will be hard pressed to attack DeSantis for his response to the Wuhan coronavirus. Although his response was uncertain at first (understandably so, given all the uncertainty about the virus), Florida, despite its large proportion of elderly residents, has had fewer deaths per capita than the U.S. as a whole (the warm weather may have helped). And DeSantis imposed fewer restrictions on economic and other activity than did the vast majority of governors.
We were in Florida at a resort hotel two weeks ago. I think DeSantis would have polled well among the northern vacationers who enjoyed not wearing masks (except in common areas of the hotel). I imagine that a great many Floridians appreciate the relaxed restrictions and the increased economic activity, including tourism.
That’s how DeSantis sees it. Asked at a news conference about Crist’s candidacy, he quipped: “Please run on lockdowns. . .run on closing schools, run on locking people down, run on closing businesses.”
That’s also how the more intelligent Democrats see it. John Morgan, a huge donor and ally of Crist, said:
[DeSantis] can arguably make the case that he handled [the pandemic] the right way. Perception is reality. Whether he was playing Russian roulette with the state of Florida no one will ever know, because the bullet never hit the chamber.
One of the likely Democratic candidates, Nikki Fried, offers another line of attack. She has chided DeSantis for moving away from the small-government ethos of the old Republican Party. I’m not sure small government plays well anymore. I’m rather sure that, coming from a Democrat, Fried’s criticism will ring hollow.
A more promising attack is to criticize DeSantis for opposing Biden’s decision to send $1,400 checks to most American adults. But this will be old news by November 2022.
Florida has been trending Republican for a decade, even in good years for Democrats. DeSantis will probably be difficult to beat in 2022.
And if he withstands the Democratic onslaught, he might well emerge as a leading contender for the GOP nomination in 2024.