Florida’s Democratic candidates for governor shared the stage Saturday night at the Julius Littman Performing Arts Theater in North Miami Beach for a live forum.
State Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, Sen. Annette Taddeo, and former Governor and current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist are campaigning to top the Democratic ticket for governor in the 2022 primary election. Moderated by local journalist Jim DeFede, the conversation included questions about pressing state issues such as the housing crisis, access to abortion, and environmental protections for the Everglades.
The candidates generally behaved cordially and often agreed with each other about issues such as affordable housing, healthcare, and gun control. But they slammed incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, and their criticism drew cheers from the crowd.
“You have a Governor right now that is fighting for his future and nothing else,” said Crist. “I don’t know who he is for, but I know who he is against — everybody I’m for.”
On average, Crist leads polls for the Democratic primary with a 19.3 margin of victory. Fried is in second, and Taddeo, who entered the race months after Crist and Fried, lands in third among the candidates. In polls against DeSantis, no candidate has been projected to win over him, with DeSantis having the smallest margin of victory against Crist.
Although the candidates seemed united for much of the two-hour panel, tension started to brew as the forum went on. Taddeo and Fried exchanged words over an off-topic dispute that was never fully revealed, causing confusion from DeFede and the crowd of about 130.
“I think we shouldn’t throw stones if we live in glass houses,” said Taddeo.
Fried assailed Crist, a former Republican, for accepting support from the National Rifle Association during his tenure as governor. This resulted in a mixed audience reaction, with both gasps and cheers.
Despite some heckling, the majority of the audience listened intently during the forum to find what these candidates plan on doing to improve the issues Florida is currently facing.
During the forum, all candidates addressed the responsibility leaders have to make decisions for a better future for younger generations.
“The fakeness and the nastiness is not what this new generation wants,” said Taddeo. “They want real, they want from the heart.”
Young voters can feel hopeless about the future, but Fried wants them to see how much is at stake in this election and that there are still people who care about what happens.
“[We get young voters to come out] by showing them that there are leaders in our state that are running for governor that is going to fight for them,” Fried said.
The event ended at 8 p.m. and the candidates stayed on stage as people went up to them to get selfies and talk with them.
Daniela Ferrera, an FIU grad and now law student at the University of Miami, has worked on numerous campaigns since she was 16 years old. She said the forum was an opportunity to better know the candidates but did not reveal who she prefers.
“Everyone has a ‘D’ behind their name but what does that even mean,” said Ferrera. “What are your concrete plans, your solutions for our state? That’s what I want to hear tonight: how they’re different from each other.”
Teacher Crystal Etienne and her husband, healthcare professional Ralph Etienne hoped to hear solutions to issues that affect the community. They have yet to choose a favorite.
For Crystal, the debate left questions unanswered. “They didn’t talk about education at all. The question wasn’t asked, but for me it is something that should always come up,” she said.
For FIU student Alexander Sutton, public education is also one of the most important issues. As a Miami native and a lifelong student of public schools, he feels the policies coming out of Tallahassee harm the youth of Florida.
“I just want to make sure that any one of these candidates that ends up winning the primary is able to go into the general election and beat Ron DeSantis,” said Sutton.
Next time all three candidates will be together is for the Democratic Gubernatorial Debate hosted by NBC 6 and Telemundo 51, taking place on July 21 in Miramar.
This gives the candidates one month before the primary election on August 23 to rally up support to become the Democratic nominee for governor and go up against DeSantis this November.
Video story by Christopher D. Gomez. Print story by Kamille Bascus, Rachel Costa and Natalie La Roche.