Fried, Crist debate as Democrats unsure of beating DeSantis

Like two Democratic gubernatorial candidates face off on Thursday night television, a different debate unfolded at a watch party in West Palm Beach.

Hosted by the Palm Beach County Hispanic Democratic Caucus, approximately 15 attendees watched the hour-long session meeting between rivals Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried. They watched the debate intently, played on a projector at the Box Gallery, sat on folded chairs and munched on popcorn.

Christ and Fried barbs swapped on a pile of issues, from abortion to affordable housing. But after their debate ended, the discussion among observers was not just about which candidate they preferred, but whether one of them could win the governor’s mansion and end a 28-game losing streak. .

Democrats gathered at The Box Gallery, which hosted a gubernatorial debate between Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist last month, for another evening debate watch on Thursday.  But the mood was more serious this time around.

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One of the optimists was Rolando Chang Barrero. As chairman of the Palm Beach County Hispanic Democratic Caucus, he said both candidates have reached out and listened to his suggestions on how to reach out to Hispanic communities.

“Some people get caught up in the campaign fodder,” Barrero said. “But most Democrats are Democrats through and through and they’re more loyal to the state when they run than anything else. And both of them would do a terrific job if elected.”

Others, however, say their hope is fading and think Democrats need to step up their efforts going forward.

“We have to get out of the la land and we have to be realistic about our chances,” said Palm Beach County LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus member Sasha Baranov.

Baranov said he thought it was necessary for the Democrats to win, but the odds were slim. He said Democrats need to learn from their mistakes in past elections, need to rethink their campaign strategies and provide more campaign funding.

“DeSantis is hugely popular in the state,” Baranov said. “So beating him – even if he’s a foot out the door and in the White House – is going to cost a hefty amount of money and, honestly, it wouldn’t take anything short of a miracle.”

A tough climb for Democrats in red Florida in the 2022 election

A month before Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles defeated Republican challenger Jeb Bush in November 1994, Florida Democrats had a lead of 424,406 voters. That gap held until GOP voter registration converted the old chasm into a Republican advantage of 202,321 voters.

Beyond that, Democrats have expressed other concerns in recent months. One of them is whether they will be able to galvanize young voters to vote, and for their party’s candidates.

Another demoralizing blow: 2018 gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum was indicted in June for fraud. And then there’s the ever-scathing hemorrhage of Hispanic votes, especially in Miami-Dade County.

South Florida is home to a diverse set of Hispanic communities from countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia. Census data from Miami-Dade County showed the county to be about 69% Hispanic, with Broward County at about 32% and Palm Beach County at nearly 24%.

In the 2020 presidential ballot, former President Donald Trump and the GOP won 205,000hispanic vote swing there. President Biden won Miami-Dade by just 7 points, far less than Hillary Clinton’s 29-point margin in 2016, as Trump won Florida by 373,231 votes.

Since 2020, Republicans in Florida have increased their influence with Hispanic communities by branding Democrats socialist programs similar to regimes in Latin American countries.

While Trump’s presidency has ardently condemned socialist regimes and appealed to voters by sanctioning Cuba and Venezuela, Biden has sought to reverse sweeping policies by easing travel restrictions to Cuba and even considering buying oil. in Venezuela.

This latest decision was criticized by Democrats in Florida.

Will the lessons of 2020 turn the fortunes of Democrats in 2022?

In 2022, Barrero said the two Democratic candidates asked what best they could do to reach Latino voters. He said Fried and Crist listen to voters by striving to be active in South Florida and reach out to the Hispanic community.

The two candidates have, in fact, made various campaign stops in Palm Beach County. And Crist should be back in Palm Beaches on Saturday.

Yet during the debate, Barrero said Crist and Fried missed an opportunity to address the issues that matter most to the electorate.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist debate at the Box Gallery in West Palm Beach on June 15, 2022.

“They’ve mentioned DeSantis too much and they’ve spent too much time playing politics instead of focusing on the few things that they’re fundamentally in favor of and support, that they haven’t mentioned but that they could have elaborated more,” Barrero said.

It’s really important because Hispanic voters, who tend to be frontline workers, are worried about the economy, Barrero said. Pew Research Center reported that 55% of Hispanics say affordable housing is a major issue where they live. With Biden’s record approval ratings, Democrats are right to fear for November.

Another participant, Tom Valeo, said Democrats could have done more and that young Democrats and Hispanic communities have not worked together enough. They talked about it, but they could have done more, he said.

“There’s always talk, no action,” said Valeo, chairman of the Palm Beach County Young Democrats and Democratic primary candidate for District 93 at the Florida House.

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