Races to watch ahead of Florida’s primary election

During Florida's primary election this Tuesday, Democratic voters will decide who takes on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in November and who will go up against Sen. Marco Rubio. POLITICO reporter Gary Fineout joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Time now for our weekend briefing with a focus on Florida politics. As voters there head to the polls and Tuesday's primary Democratic voters will decide who takes on Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in November, and which candidate will go up against Senator Marco Rubio this fall?

    We've got Gary Fineout with us. He covers Florida politics for Politico. It's good to have you here. And let's start with this race that is sure to draw the most national attention that's Democrats deciding who's going to face off against Ron DeSantis. So as you know, we have Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist. He used to be a Republican, used to be the governor of Florida. He is up against the state's Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. So how is that re shaping up?

  • Gary Fineout, Reporter, Politico:

    Well, it's been very interesting when Nikki Fried first came on the scene four years ago, she was the only Democrat to get elected statewide back in 2018, when Ron DeSantis narrowly won, and she sort of became the face of the Democratic Party. And everyone naturally assumed that she was going to make a run for governor. And she did that. But what happened is, is that Charlie Crist, who ran for governor in 2014, against Rick Scott and lost as a Democrat, decided to also jump into the race. And what's interesting is that Crist has managed to outrace her, and he's gotten a lot of endorsements from establishment traditional Democrats. And right now, you know, some of the polls, there's a couple of that shown Fried, edging up, but a lot of the polls have shown Crist ahead. And right now it looks like he is possibly going to be the nominee going up against Ron DeSantis. In an election, which there could be a lot of money spent.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yeah. And Governor DeSantis as he tries to make a name for himself on the national stage, this past week, he announced criminal charges against 20 people for illegally voting in 2020. So this is the first major public move from his controversial new election police unit. And then Florida has a new election law, as you know, that makes it harder to request and turn in absentee ballots. And it makes it easier to challenge votes that are cast. So how is that expected to affect the outcome not just on Tuesday, but in November?

  • Gary Fineout:

    Well, I think that's what we're going to wait and see kind of, you know, in terms of how all that's going to play out. The thing is, is that there were some things that they delayed the effect. Now, one of the big things that they didn't do, and it's interesting DeSantis in his press conference the other day, I mentioned that, boy, he had really wanted to do it for the cycle, but didn't, which was basically cancel everyone's vote by mail requests, and require everyone to do again. They didn't do that, they kind of grandfathered everyone in. So I'm not sure if we're going to see the full effect. But there are some people who had to provide additional identification. If you were on the books long enough. And you kind of registered before you had to give a full amount of I.D. information you're having to be — you're having to give that now. And so I think that all that's going to play into how we go into the fall. There's also some rules relative to what they call live warming activities, and what can take place outside of polling places heading up onto Election Day.

    So this is going to be a test. This is, you know, in terms of what is going to be the impact of these changes. And there's also been changes to drop boxes. They're no longer called drop boxes in Florida. They have a new name as secure intake ballot stations. But they're drop boxes. But they've changed the rules as to, you know, make it abundantly clear they have to be supervised and they can only be used during certain hours.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And voting rights advocates make the case that this is all various forms of voter suppression. Let's talk about the Senate race because you've got Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings. She's all over Florida's airwaves with her eye on a general election matchup against Senator Marco Rubio. And you've got a committee supporting Demings that raised nearly $48 million. We should say, of course, money isn't always determinative in politics because Rubio has the advantage of being an incumbent and he has huge name recognition. What's the state of play there?

  • Gary Fineout:

    Well, that has the potential to be probably one of the more interesting and potentially most competitive races on the ballot here in Florida. As you point out, she's done a very good job raising money. And she has been using that to go up on the air. She has so far outspent Marco Rubio on television ads, but you can make the argument that too as to your point, she needed to introduce herself to a lot of voters even though she was on the shortlist for vice president she's still not known at statewide like Marco Rubio is obviously he ran for president against Donald Trump and he lost and he ran for reelection in 2016.

    So, so there's going to be a lot of play, a lot of interest. I think in that race, I think the big question becomes is, how much of a play are Democrats nationally going to make? You know, that they've got competitions going all across the country. And, you know, the plain fact is, it's very expensive to play in Florida. And the question is, do you take your money and use it in a state like Georgia, like New Hampshire? Someplace where your money's going to go further? Because you don't have to spend as much, or are you going to use it to knock out Marco Rubio. And I also think that part of that is going to play into is where are the Democrats heading into the final weeks? How big of a deal is Florida? Do they need Florida to hold on to the Senate?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yeah, Florida is a big state with a lot of media markets. Gary Fineout, thanks so much for your reporting and your insights.

  • Gary Fineout:

    All right, thank you.

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