TAMARAC – Ron DeSantis went to Weston. Charlie Crist snuck off to Tamarac.
Both the governor and former governor were seeking votes in Broward this week. What they found, and what they said and didn’t say, is worth parsing in an ongoing race for governor of Florida.
DeSantis is the most talked about governor in the country, while Crist, a former one-term Republican governor turned Democrat, is his party’s favorite but must win the nomination over Nikki Fried and Annette Taddeo.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Crist’s stop at Kings Point for brunch last Sunday was open to the media. DeSantis’ star turn at the Broward Republicans’ Lincoln Day dinner two days later was closed to the press. (We got a tape of the speech, a 40-minute marathon the length of Trump.) It’s emblematic of how the two men govern. Christ is open. DeSantis is closed.
I remember the days of neglected Republicans begging reporters to attend this rubber chicken ritual lest it be ignored in a Democratic-dominated county.
At Ron Bergeron’s Everglades Ranch, DeSantis was greeted with wild enthusiasm by Republicans in a county where he will be beaten, as he was four years ago. But the public never saw it, as the local Republican Party shut down the event.
The place was packed, with a reported crowd of 500 people paying $300 each. Crist had maybe 150 people at Kings Point and two empty tables were in the back. I remember when events like this also attracted 500 people, but the demographics of West Broward changed dramatically. Even all that free food can’t wrap them up anymore, which means Democrats are going to have to work exceptionally hard to oust DeSantis from power.
“He’s trying to outplay Trump, and he’s forgetting about you and me,” Crist told the crowd in Tamarac.
It was the day after the massacre at a Buffalo supermarket, and Crist asked for a minute of silence for the victims before calling for a ban on assault weapons.
In Weston, DeSantis made no reference to the latest mass shootings or gunfire. Nor did he remind that crowd of moderate Republicans of his insistence that the Legislature send him an “open carry” no-license gun bill. He praised his many political successes and especially criticized Joe Biden.
“The state of Florida is where the revival is going to die,” DeSantis said to raucous applause.
DeSantis ignored his Democratic rivals. He criticized Democratic-run cities (“all in shambles”), the Democratic Party (“Brandon’s Party”), the NCAA and of course Disney, which he says will soon lose its independent government approved by the State at Walt Disney World.
“I’m not comfortable with our state having this type of relationship with a company that has gone astray,” he said. “They will live under the same laws as everyone else.”
During the vote, Crist said Election Day should be a holiday, as it is in nearly a dozen states, and that DeSantis’ support for voting restrictions shows his contempt for black people. and the elderly.
The Weston crowd roared as DeSantis took credit for the resignation of former Broward election supervisor Brenda Snipes.
He touted his spooky election police force, which he called an “election integrity unit,” and added a list of drop boxes that were so vital to strong Democratic turnout last time out.
“We’re not going to have these drop boxes just put in the middle of town somewhere,” DeSantis said.
They never were – more misinformation.
Crist insisted on civility – his best asset. He touched on topics ranging from housing costs to his own conversion from Republican to Democrat. But he did not discuss abortion in detail, the issue on which Nikki Fried has repeatedly criticized him for his anti-abortion past.
Crist predicted victory, as challengers always do, but he was unconvincing. His audience wanted more red meat. When he said the race with DeSantis was between “good and bad,” it rang false. The older women corrected him. “The good and the bad! Evil!” they shouted.
“Well, you said it,” Crist replied.
Back in Weston, DeSantis had this to say about Broward: “We’re not red yet, but we’re getting a little redder here.”
Here are the numbers: Broward has 628,000 Democrats and 272,000 Republicans, and most of the rest are unaffiliated. About half of the county’s 1.3 million voters are Democrats and 21% are Republicans.
Since November 2020, Republicans have added 2,400 voters and Democrats have dropped nearly 6,000, likely due to deaths and non-voters being moved to inactive status. But the Democratic numerical advantage remains overwhelming.
Four years ago, both parties had crowded and competitive primaries for governor. Broward’s turnout was 23.5%, four points below the lackluster statewide turnout of 27.5%. It won’t be enough this time. Not against DeSantis.