TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's two Democrats eyeing the governor’s office both claimed victory after their first and only primary debate Thursday night.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried touted their performance following the broadcast of the prerecorded event in Miramar.
Sparks flew almost instantly. Crist was often focused on incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying the Republican isn't paying enough attention to the needs of Floridians.
“We need a governor who wants to care about the people of our state," Crist said. "Not the people in Iowa or New Hampshire who are going to be voting in 2024 for the Republican nominee for president.”
Fried, meanwhile, regularly railed on Crist's political record. She condemned the former governor for his time as a Republican and said his state Supreme Court picks could result in an end to abortion access in Florida.
"When women die here in the state of Florida, that is on you," Fried said. "You will have to live with that every single day."
Crist rebuffed the attacks and urged Fried to end the mudslinging.
"Stop tearing down your fellow Democrats and do what's right to win this election in November," Crist said. "I'll pledge to you — if you win the primary, I'll endorse you that night."
Fried did not return the pledge, but the two did agree on much — the death penalty for the Parkland shooter, better access to affordable housing, comprehensive immigration reform and banning assault weapons.
They also said defeating DeSantis would depend on their being the nominee after the Aug. 23 primary.
"Unfortunately, Nikki is losing this campaign," Crist said. "And that's unfortunate, but you want somebody to win, and who can win in November."
"You have a choice," Fried said in closing. "We can keep losing. Or we can try something new."
Republicans have dismissed the debate and the two candidates.
"While Fried and Crist argue over who loves Joe Biden more, Floridians already have a real leader in the governor's mansion," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Julia Friedland said.
A statement from the Republican Governor's Association said something similar.
"It doesn't really make much difference whether Democrats nominate Pelosi puppet Charlie Crist or desperate extremist Nikki Fried to oppose Gov. Ron DeSantis, because Floridians are fired up and ready to keep him in the governor's office for four more years," spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. "Gov. DeSantis has done a tremendous job growing Florida's economy, protecting parents' rights to be involved in their child's education, and ensuring the safety of every Floridian — making the Sunshine State one of the best places to live, work and raise a family."