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Nikki Fried, Charlie Crist square off in Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Debate

The two leading candidates are hopeful to unseat Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee | AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Nikki Fried, left, and Charlie Crist

MIAMI — Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates shared their political strategies on how to lead the state of Florida in a pre-recorded debate Thursday evening.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep Charlie Crist took part in a debate from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on NBC and Telemundo affiliates. 

Florida's primary election is scheduled for Aug. 23, 2022, and the focus of many Democrats will be deciding who will challenge Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Nov. 8 general election.

Thursday's debate gave each candidate a moment to speak to the many different communities in Florida about their views on the economy and inflation, the affordable housing crisis, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights, gun control, climate change, immigration, and more.

Abortion was an area in which Fried tried to differentiate herself from Crist. 

"This question is the greatest difference between myself, Charlie, and Ron," said Fried. "I have been pro-choice my entire life. I have made sure that I have stood at the side of women. Charlie cannot say the same thing. He has been pro-life his entire life, including today."

She pointed to the judges that Crist appointed while he was governor, and their potential to overturn Florida's right to privacy law which protects abortion rights.

"Nikki, you know that's just not true and you shouldn't say those things because you're trying to muddy it up. Now let's understand what's going on here. You're losing this campaign, it's time for desperation and it's now on display for all of Florida and I'm sorry to see that." 

Crist continued, "I've been pro-choice. Every action I've taken as an elected official has been pro-choice. I have a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood." 

RELATED: Charlie Crist, Nikki Fried explain why they're best suited to unseat DeSantis

RELATED: Here's your county-by-county sample ballot for the Florida primary in August

The candidates appear to take similar stances in many areas. Both said they'd attempt to reverse the 'Parental Rights in Education' bill, which opponents have dubbed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill. They'd sign off on the death penalty for Parkland school shooter, Nikolas Cruz.

Another key focus for the candidates was how they would address the affordable housing crisis. 

Fried said, "On day one, I'm going to be declaring a housing emergency because if you cannot put a roof over your head, if you can't make sure that your families are taken care of, then we're saying democracy, the American dream slipped through our fingers."

Crist said, "We need a governor laser-focused on doing what's right for the people, making sure that we have housing funds available to make sure that Floridians can keep a roof over their head. One way we can do that is to make sure the property insurance rates come down."

It was not lost on either candidate that at the end of the day one of them would have to take on incumbent DeSantis.

Each accused the governor of using Florida as a stepping stone to the White House and argued they are the best candidate to unseat him. 

Crist pointed to his experience and overall electability, and said, "I'm confident in [winning] the primary, but not complacent. It is the same way about taking on Ron DeSantis, I'm polling ahead of him today." 

Nikki argued she is the candidate who DeSantis does not want to go up against. "If you vote for me in this primary, you will have a fighter and we will end Ron DeSantis' career... At the end of the day, we know that Ron DeSantis has flown too close to the sun, that he is prone to make mistakes, and I am prone to capitalize on them." 

DeSantis has not commented on the debate, but the RNC released this statement ahead of it, which said: "While Fried and Crist argue over who loves Joe Biden more, Floridians already have a real leader in the Governor's mansion."

Fried is a lifelong Floridian. She worked as a public defender in Alachua County and later became a government affairs advocate for the marijuana industry. Now, as agriculture commissioner, she's the only elected Democrat currently holding a statewide office in the state.

Crist is a longtime politician from St. Petersburg. He was Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011 and was elected as a Republican before changing parties. In 2016, he flipped a Republican seat and was elected as the Democratic Congressman for Florida’s 13th district.

In a press release, a spokesperson for Crist said the congressman "distinguished himself as the experienced and tested public leader," during the debate, stating Fried "floundered on stage."

During Thursday night's debate, Fried said she has always been a part of and for the Democratic party. She said it's something Crist can't relate to.

RELATED: Florida lawmakers react to SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

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