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Crist, Fried, Taddeo slam DeSantis, go easy on each other

During the Democratic Women’s Clubs of Florida forum for the three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on Friday.

Nikki Fried, left, Charlie Crist and Annette Taddeo greet each other during the Democratic Women’s Clubs of Florida forum for the three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on Friday. Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel

By Steven Lemongello Orlando Sentinel

The three major Democratic candidates for governor slammed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis but held off on criticizing each other during a forum in Orlando on Friday night. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo, all spoke at the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida’s annual convention held at the Rosen Centre.

The main message from the trio was that Democrats could not afford to lose the governor’s office again to DeSantis, whom they blamed for a bevy of ills ranging from a narrow focus on culture wars to ignoring economic issues.

“It has been a long, long, almost three decades of one party control of our state,” Fried said. “And so we’re not just running against Ron DeSantis. We are running against four consecutive Republican governors, 13 Senate presidents, 14 speakers of the House. We have a government that is no longer connected to the people of our state. … We cannot get this wrong. Our democracy of our state and our nation depends on it.”

Crist, D-St. Petersburg, who was one of those Republican governors from 2007-11 before he said he “saw the light,” called DeSantis “a nightmare.”

Crist cited DeSantis’ sudden call to dissolve Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District this month after Disney CEO Bob Chapek belatedly criticized the so-called ‘don’t say gay’ bill.

“Here we are in Orlando,” Crist said. “And this is where Walt Disney World is, if you haven’t heard of that. And it’s amazing to me that any elected official in Florida would attack Mickey Mouse. But that’s where we are now. And that’s why we have to win.”

Taddeo, D-Miami, compared DeSantis’ attack on The Walt Disney Co. to Venezuela’s strongman dictator.

“What he just did to Disney, that’s what [Nicolas] Maduro does in Venezuela,” Taddeo said.

Taddeo said DeSantis’ culture war fights, such as the “Stop WOKE Act” that limits instruction about racial issues in schools and his congressional map that eliminated two Black seats, were being pushed because of DeSantis’ White House ambitions in 2024.

“Think about all the damage that these bills have brought on to our state, to our kids, to our teachers, to our minority communities, and to our women,” Taddeo said. “And yet, he only cares about being president. That’s why we must repeal every one of those bills, and I will from the governor’s mansion.”

Fried talked about DeSantis announcing his support Friday of a so-called ‘constitutional carry’ bill that would allow people to carry handguns without a concealed weapons license or permit.

“If you all didn’t see what he announced today, we’re going to have open carry in the state of Florida,” Fried said. “If that doesn’t scare us, and make us more determined than ever to make sure that he is a one-term governor, I don’t know what else does.”

Crist also slammed DeSantis for passing the “kinds of laws that really only appeal to the hard-right, red-meat Republican primary voter, not even general election, moderate Republicans. … That’s why we have to repeal all those silly laws.”

He said as governor, he would “get back to addressing issues that Floridians care about. How about your property insurance bill? How about being able to buy a house in Florida? Good luck with that. It just came out yesterday that we’re the most expensive state to live in now. … Nobody’s got your back in Tallahassee in the Legislature or the governor’s office right now.”

Fried’s campaign has gotten more aggressive against Crist in recent weeks, slamming his low in-person voting record in Congress this year and saying he was “flat-out lying” when he said he had always supported abortion rights despite previously describing himself as “pro- life.”

Meanwhile, Taddeo had obliquely criticized Fried after her office sued the federal government over a rule banning medical marijuana users from buying guns, writing in a tweet, “I’m a lifelong Democrat running for Governor of Florida, and I have never sued the Biden administration.”

But the candidates focused instead on the best way to defeat DeSantis despite the $100 million campaign accounts he has built so far for the November election.

Taddeo stressed the importance of Democrats winning back the segment of the Hispanic vote lost by Democrats in 2018. She attributed that to false attacks calling Democrats “socialists” designed to scare voters with ties to Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

Crist pledged that if he didn’t win the Aug. 23 Democratic primary, “I will immediately endorse either these two wonderful people, because the way we beat this guy is by being united. And when we’re united, I guarantee you we will win this election.”

He said DeSantis is being treated “as some kind of Goliath. But one of us is going to be David.”

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