Primary takeaways: DeSantis's challenger chosen; New York Democrats wage intra-party fights

Republican Ron DeSantis loomed over Tuesday's primary contests as Florida Democrats selected a nominee whom they hope could put an end to his White House ambitions.

Since winning the Sunshine State's top spot by less than half a percentage point in 2018, the governor has become a polarizing figure. He has become a champion for conservatives and a lightning rod for liberals on several hot-button topics.

But DeSantis isn't simply waiting to see who his November opponent will be. He is throwing his political weight around, too, endorsing and financially supporting contenders in about three-dozen down-ballot GOP primaries across the state as a way to flex his popularity.

Conservative activists are showing up at annual meetings to warn company leaders against engaging in the kind of LGBTQ advocacy that prompted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to dismantle Walt Disney’s special tax district

Outside Florida, Tuesday's primary races featured two intraparty clashes for Democrats in New York, including a joust between two powerful congressional chairs and a progressive referendum on the head of the House Democrats reelection arm.

Here are the main takeaways from Tuesday's primaries:

DeSantis vs. Crist

Republican Ron DeSantis will be challenged by Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who easily defeated Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried after a testy Democratic primary.

Now Crist will pivot to the general with a message of being a unifying centrist who is thought to be the last roadblock for DeSantis before he considers running for president.

"Gov. DeSantis only cares about the White House," Crist said in his victory speech on Tuesday. "He doesn’t care about your house.”

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Crist has had quite the political journey. He was first elected as Florida governor as a Republican in 2006, until he became an independent in 2010 when he ran for U.S. senator. Two years later, he became a Democrat.

Initial election results showed Crist trouncing Fried, 60% to 35%.

In the final stretch of the primary, Fried tried to call attention to her rival's previous positions as a Republican. She also leaned heavily into the fight to protect abortion access in the final stretch of the campaign.

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DeSantis, a 43-year-old Navy veteran, will likely cast himself as a champion of conservatives.

He has gained national attention for culture war causes such as banning specific math textbooks with critical race theory and blocking classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools in kindergarten through third grade.

As a result, DeSantis' name has climbed the GOP ranks of candidates who could rival former President Donald Trump for the nomination in 2024.

Ex-Florida governor Charlie Crist is running for his old job as a Democrat.

Demings seizes nomination

As expected, Rep. Val Demings easily prevailed in the four-way Florida Democratic primary on Tuesday for U.S. Senate, setting up a much-anticipated contest against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio this fall.

Now the question is whether Demings, a former Orlando police chief, can make the race competitive.

Florida has been trending Republican, and its Senate contest is rated as a likely or leans GOP by election forecasters.

But Demings is picking up steam in some polling.

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., on July 29, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

A University of North Florida survey conducted via email released this month, for instance, showed the congresswoman ahead by 4 percentage points.

She has also raked in more campaign cash than Rubio, a former presidential candidate. Federal campaign records show she has raised about $47.8 million, compared with Rubio's $36.7 million.

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Demings, who was once on Joe Biden's short list for vice president, is joining forces with four other Senate Democratic candidates who are looking to flip seats currently held by the GOP.

The "flippable five fund" includes Demings; North Carolina's Cheri Beasley; Ohio's Tim Ryan; Pennsylvania's John Fetterman; and Wisconsin's Mandela Barnes.

DCCC chair survives

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee survived a challenge from a progressive.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney had come under intense fire from state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi as the two vied for a newly drawn New York district.

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Biaggi, who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., blasted Maloney as out of touch, saying he cared more about expedient politics than core liberal values.

She called out the DCCC leader over supporting a strategy used in Michigan that bought attack ads during GOP primaries that which spotlighted election deniers. But Maloney defended his overseeing the effort to save the party’s House majority against historic headwinds, pointing out that in the Michigan race, Democrats are now favored to win the seat.

Nadler wins NY faceoff 

One of the high-profile primaries Tuesday was a clash between two longtime House Democratic leaders who were pitted against each other due to redistricting.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, defeated Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, ending her three decades in Congress when her term expires in January.

Rep. Jerry Nadler speaks during New York's 12th Congressional District Democratic primary debate hosted by Spectrum News NY1 and WNYC at the CUNY Graduate Center, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool) ORG XMIT: NYMA108

The liberal stalwarts, both elected in 1992, were put into the same district after a state court tossed out the Democratic-controlled New York Legislature's original maps.

As a result, the eastern and western half of Manhattan were combined into one district for the first time since World War II.

Many Democrats in the district bemoaned having to choose between two valued incumbents, but Nadler is expected to coast to victory this fall.

Progressive rising star ousted by impeachment lawyer in NY primary

In another blow to progressives, Rep. Mondaire Jones, one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress, was ousted by former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman in the Tuesday primary for New York’s 10th Congressional District. 

Jones, a freshman, earned just 18.2% of the vote, falling behind both Goldman (25.8%) and New York state Rep. Yuh-Line Niou (23.7%). The primary was crowded, with nine other candidates also running for the spot. Jones represents the New York suburbs, but decided to run in a city-based district after new congressional boundaries were drawn.

Goldman, who received The New York Times’ endorsement, served as counsel to House Democrats in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment inquiry. Jones was backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called him "a respected progressive voice on Capitol Hill and a relentless fighter for working families."

Oklahoma legislative candidate who made anti-gay remarks in the past loses  

Oklahoma didn’t expect to grab headlines in Tuesday’s primary, but a state House candidate’s violent remark against gay Americans thrust a legislative race into the national spotlight.

Republican Scott Esk, lost his primary to Gloria Banister for a seat representing part of Oklahoma City.

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Bannister beat Esk 58%-42%.

In the weeks leading up to the race, Esk drew headlines for Facebook comments in 2013, where he wrote that gay people are "worthy of death" and "we would be totally in the right" to stone them.

Esk defended the comments when he unsuccessfully ran for a different House seat in 2014, saying he had "an opinion against homosexuality." 

"Well, does that make me a homophobe? Maybe some people think it does, but as far as I and many of the voters ... are concerned, it simply makes me a Christian," he said.

Contributing: Ella Lee