DeSantis defeats Crist, wins 2nd term as Florida governor

Nov 8, 2022, 12:21 PM | Updated: 7:18 pm
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist, with his fiancee Chelsea Grimes, speaks to s...

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist, with his fiancee Chelsea Grimes, speaks to supporters on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection to a second term Tuesday in a dominant victory over Democrat Charlie Crist, bolstering his rise as a prominent GOP star with potential White House ambitions.

DeSantis’ win continues a rightward shift for what was once the nation’s largest swing state, as voters embraced a governor who reveled in culture war politics and framed his candidacy as a battle against the “woke agenda” of liberals.

In the lead-up to the election, DeSantis harnessed the power of incumbency to assemble media, often on short notice and far outside major markets, for news conferences where he would spend significant time honing critiques of Democratic President Joe Biden, liberal policies and the mainstream media, delivered before cheering crowds.

He gained significant national attention during the start of the coronavirus pandemic through his outspoken opposition to continued lockdowns and to mask and vaccine mandates, and eventually displayed an eagerness to wade into nearly any cultural divide.

His ceaseless combative posture, and ability to leverage the power of state government to his will, endeared DeSantis to major GOP donors and built him into a natural heir to former President Donald Trump in the minds of some Republican voters.

Weeks before the election, DeSantis directed the state to fly groups of migrants from Texas to the upscale liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, as a protest over the federal government’s immigration policies at the southern border. DeSantis said the move was a way to make immigration a “front-burner issue” before the midterms, with his critics questioning the legality of the flights as they accused officials of lying to the passengers.

Election Day came as Florida continued to recover from the Category 4 Hurricane Ian, which slammed into the state in late September and killed more than 100 people and caused widespread damage.

Politically, the storm temporarily muted much of the bitter campaign rhetoric and provided DeSantis a platform to project a unifying tone as a competent crisis manager able to set aside the culture warrior and work with rivals such as Biden on response efforts.

The victory is certain to further speculation of a potential DeSantis presidential run. DeSantis has so far dodged questions on his possible Washington aspirations, skirting the subject repeatedly during his only gubernatorial debate with Crist in late October.

Trump, who credits himself for propelling DeSantis to a first term in the governor’s office, has teased a third presidential run and grown frustrated with DeSantis’ refusal to rule out a 2024 campaign, according to people familiar with Trump’s thinking.

The governor was able to raise substantially more money than Crist, a 66-year-old Democrat who had previously served as a Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. Crist aimed his candidacy at moderate voters in Florida, criticizing DeSantis as a bully, as he sought to reverse a losing streak for Democrats in the state.

Crist resigned a congressional seat to run for governor this year but was forced to fend off barbs on the campaign trail about various stances held over his decades in Florida politics. In a short concession speech, Crist congratulated DeSantis and thanked supporters, saying his political career has been an “absolute blessing.”

Democrats, the minority party in the state government, faced considerable challenges in a state recently considered to be a perennial political battleground but that has drifted rightward. Trump won the state twice and Republicans have been aggressive in organizing at the local level and made a sustained push on voter registration.

Last year, the GOP notched more registered voters in the state than Democrats for the first time in modern history, and then continued to widen the gap into November.

In a telling signal before election day, GOP voters cast a greater number of ballots than Democrats in Miami-Dade County during the early voting period, boosting confidence that Republicans could take the county for the first time in two decades. DeSantis won Miami-Dade County on election night.

The economy is weighing heavily on the minds of Florida voters. Three-quarters of them believe things in the country are heading in the wrong direction, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,300 voters in Florida.

About half ranked jobs as the most important issue facing the country and almost 8 in 10 voters said the nation’s economy is not so good or poor.

A slight majority of voters in Florida approve of DeSantis’ decision to send migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to northern Democratic states. A larger percentage of voters approve of how DeSantis handled hurricane relief in the state — about three-quarters — compared to how President Joe Biden handled things — about 6 in 10.

Some Democrats have admitted previous organizing and registration efforts in Florida had mostly centered around presidential races, and there were concerns that big donors and the national wing of the party might cede the state after recent losses and DeSantis’ growing popularity.

The Democratic Governors Association has bristled at that characterization and said it considers Florida a competitive battleground. The organization has spent $685,000 to help elect Crist, a spokesperson said.

The election unfolded under the state’s controversial new Office of Election Crimes and Security, created at the request of DeSantis to address concerns in the GOP about voter fraud. The office notified county election supervisors in October of certain voters who could be ineligible to cast ballots due to prior felony convictions and requested counties prevent them from voting.

Florida also pushed back on plans from the federal government to send monitors to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws — a routine step.

In a letter, Republican Secretary of State Cord Byrd’s office told the Justice Department that federal monitors are not allowed inside polling places and that their presence could undermine confidence in the election. The Justice Department, which also sent monitors to about two dozen other states, eventually said their monitors in Florida would be outside the polling places.

“They wanted to be inside the polling places and they couldn’t provide a reason to be there nor any statutory authority for them to be there, so we asked them that they respect Florida law,” Byrd said Tuesday, adding the monitors “can go there and do their job but they have to do that job outside the polling place.”

___

Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

And follow the AP’s election coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

___

Associated Press reporter Mike Schneider contributed from Orlando, Florida.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist, with his fiancee Chelsea Grimes, speaks to supporters on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
            
              Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist, with his fiancee Chelsea Grimes, speaks to supporters on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
            
              Supporters cheer after the race is called for incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis during an election night party, in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              A woman arrives before Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters during an election night party in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
            
              Lee County voters wait in line to cast their ballots at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers, Fla, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. After the area was devastated and thousands were left displaced by Hurricane Ian, Lee County extended their early voting period and permitted voters on Election Day to cast their ballot in any of the dozen open polling places. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Lee County voters wait in line to cast their ballots at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers, Fla, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. After the area was devastated and thousands were left displaced by Hurricane Ian, Lee County extended their early voting period and permitted voters on Election Day to cast their ballot in any of the dozen open polling places. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Voters casting their ballots during the midterm elections in Miami-Dade County at the Miami Beach Fire Department - Station 4 on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 in Miami Beach, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)
            
              Lee County voters wait in line to cast their ballots at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers, Fla, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. After the area was devastated and thousands were left displaced by Hurricane Ian, Lee County extended their early voting period and permitted voters on Election Day to cast their ballot in any of the dozen open polling places. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Lee County voters wait in line to cast their ballots at Wa-Ke Hatchee Recreation Center in Fort Myers, Fla, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. After the area was devastated and thousands were left displaced by Hurricane Ian, Lee County extended their early voting period and permitted voters on Election Day to cast their ballot in any of the dozen open polling places. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
            
              Voters casting their ballots during the midterm elections in Miami-Dade County at the Miami Beach Fire Department - Station 4 on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 in Miami Beach, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)
            
              This combination of photos shows Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist on Sept. 12, 2022, in Miami, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sept. 26, 2022, in Largo, Fla., right. DeSantis and Crist head to the debate stage Monday night for what may be Crist’s best, and perhaps last, opportunity to change the trajectory of the Florida governor’s race. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
            
              FILE - Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist smiles during a campaign event in Pinecrest, Fla., Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
            
              FILE - Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as his wife Casey applauds, following a televised debate against Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, in Fort Pierce, Fla., Oct. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
            
              Democratic candidate for Florida governor Charlie Crist, right, campaigns at an early voting location, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Miami. At left is former NBA basketball player Ray Allen. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
            Supporters of Democratic candidate for Florida governor Charlie Crist cheer as he campaigns at an early voting location, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Democratic candidate for Florida governor Charlie Crist, second from right, arrives with his fiancee Chelsea Grimes, right, and his running mate Karla Hernandez, center, as he campaigns at an early voting location, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Miami. Second from left is former NBA basketball player Ray Allen. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis attend his campaign rally in Oviedo, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel via AP) Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the crowd during a campaign rally in his quest for reelection in Oviedo, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel via AP) FILE - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep Charlie Crist, D-Fla., gestures as he speaks to supporters Aug. 23, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File) FILE - Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a televised debate against Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, at Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, Fla., Oct. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

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DeSantis defeats Crist, wins 2nd term as Florida governor