TALLAHASSEE — With voters choosing a Democratic nominee for governor in three weeks, Nikki Fried went up Monday with her first TV ad of the primary season and drew a sharp contrast with rival Charlie Crist.
Fried’s $1.5 million buy places the 30-second spot in six of the state’s top TV markets, including costly Orlando, Miami and West Palm Beach. The ad’s most prominent image has the candidate striding through mannequins representing Florida’s 46 previous governors — all men.
“We have to try something new,” Fried says in the spot, after text displayed references to the overturning of abortion rights, economic woes and gun limits that have failed to advance because of the National Rifle Association’s influence.
Crist went on television in mid-July with his only TV ad so far of the campaign. He looked past the Aug. 23 primary contest and focused on Gov. Ron DeSantis in his spot.
By contrast, Fried trains much of her focus on Crist, without mentioning the former Florida Republican governor who is now a Democratic Congressman from St. Petersburg.
Fried notes she is the only statewide elected Democrat, and adds that she is the only “pro-choice Democrat, and the only Democrat who’s never taken a dime from the NRA.”
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Crist has been pushing back against Fried’s steady attacks on him for casting himself as “pro-life,” but still a defender of abortion rights. Crist also supports stricter gun limits, despite having been backed by the NRA during his Republican years.
DeSantis doesn’t face a primary opponent. And he’s not expected to air TV spots until after his rival in November is determined by Democratic voters in the primary.
TV is a needed luxury for the Democrats, whose funding is lackluster.
Crist has about $7.2 million cash-on-hand, compared to $2.8 million for Fried. DeSantis, a likely contender for the White House in 2024, has eclipsed every other politician in Florida by sitting on $128 million for his November race and beyond.
Crist and Fried had their lone TV debate of their race last month, an hourlong exchange aired over Florida NBC-TV stations and in Spanish on Telemundo stations.
The pair battled over affordable housing, the economy, climate change and abortion, with Fried challenging Crist’s frequently nuanced policy stances during his many years in politics, where he is now in his seventh statewide campaigns, having run four times as a Republican, once previously as a Democrat and once as an independent.
Fried, by contrast, won her first elected office in 2018, narrowly capturing the Cabinet post of Agriculture Commissioner.
But along with emerging as the better-financed candidate, Crist also has won endorsements from some of the Democratic Party’s biggest allies, including labor organizations, the AFL-CIO, Florida Education Association, and Service Employees International, which can prove significant in get-out-the-vote efforts in a traditionally low-turnout primary.
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport