DeSantis vastly out-fundraised Crist and performed better in polls in the lead-up to an election where the governor rarely mentioned his opponent by name and instead characterized the race as a fight against the “woke agenda” of liberals.
Crist, on the other hand, centered his campaign on DeSantis, framing the Republican as a bully fixated on angling toward the presidency at the expense of the everyday problems of Floridians. At the candidates’ only debate, Crist repeatedly pressed the governor to commit to serving a full second term if elected. DeSantis skirted the question.
The victory continues DeSantis’ rise as a national Republican star as he eyes a possible 2024 White House run that could leave him well positioned to be a GOP primary alternative to Donald Trump.
In Georgia and Michigan, the incumbents remained locked in close races late Tuesday. Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had pulled ahead in his rematch against of Democrat Stacey Abrams with about 60% of ballots counted. Kemp, 59, seemed on shaky ground among Republicans after the 2020 presidential election, when Trump blamed him for not doing enough to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia. Trump helped lure former U.S. Sen. David Perdue into a primary challenge to Kemp, whom he called a “complete and total failure.”
Abrams, a lawyer whose 2018 loss to Kemp helped launch her into Democratic stardom, would be the first Black woman to serve as a governor in the United States if she were to win. She was seeking to avenge a defeat that she acknowledged while refusing to use the word “concede,” saying Kemp abused his prior position as secretary of state to raise barriers to voting.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, led Republican challenger Tudor Dixon late Tuesday in a race significant beyond Michigan, a presidential election battleground. The winner will be in office for the 2024 contest, and could influence voting laws and how the election is conducted. Trump, Biden and former President Barack Obama have all visited Michigan in recent weeks to rally support for their party’s candidates.
Dixon is a former commentator for a conservative online program backed by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her politically powerful and wealthy family. She won a highly contested August primary after the two predicted front-runners, James Craig and Perry Johnson, were eliminated in a signature fraud scandal.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, had overtaken Democrat Beto O’Rourke Tuesday evening as he sought a record-tying third term that would strengthen his prospects as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. O’Rourke has hoped an upset would make him the first Democrat elected governor in Texas since 1990.
Other races were noteworthy for other reasons.
Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders won the race to be the next governor of Arkansas, becoming the first woman to lead the state and the highest profile Trump administration official in elected office.
Sanders defeated Democratic nominee Chris Jones in the race for governor in her predominantly Republican home state, where Trump remains popular. Sanders had been heavily favored to win the race, which also included Libertarian nominee Ricky Dale Harrington.
Maryland elected the state’s first Black governor, Democrat Wes Moore, who defeated Republican Dan Cox in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. Moore’s victory flips a governor’s office from Republican to Democratic.
Of the 36 governor’s races this year, Maryland and Massachusetts represented the best chances for Democrats to regain a governor’s office. With the slogan “leave no one behind,” Moore, a combat veteran and former CEO of one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty organizations, campaigned on creating equal opportunity for Maryland residents.
In Massachusetts, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, made history as the state’s first woman and first openly gay candidate elected to the governor’s office. Healey defeated Republican candidate Geoff Diehl, a former state representative.
In Florida, Democrats, the minority party in the state government, faced considerable challenges in a state recently considered to be a perennial political battleground but that has drifted to the right. Trump won the state twice and Republicans have been aggressive in organizing at the local level and made a sustained push on voter registration.
DeSantis was elected four years ago by just 32,000 votes out of 8.2 million cast. Since then, he has benefited from a rightward shift in Florida, which Trump carried by more than 3 points in 2020, and where Republicans now hold a registration advantage of nearly 300,000 voters.