With a bruising Primary season just two days gone, Democrats came together in Florida’s bluest congressional district Thursday to rally for unity behind the party’s November ticket.
The event drew together the two top rivals for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, nominee Charlie Crist and the second-place finisher, Agricultural Secretary Nikki Fried. They even sat side-by-side in the first row of seats.
“Turn Florida blue in 2022,” was the obvious slogan for the gathering.
“We’ve got to make sure that everybody’s pulling the same direction at the same time to get to the same conclusion — and that is winning Nov. 8,” Crist said. “Winning Broward, Palm Beach Miami, and all 67 counties. We can do this.”
The evening’s high point came with late-arriving U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who’s trying to unseat Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Her voice hoarse, she summoned the image of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, about to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as similar to what Democrats are facing.
She touched on voting rights, tighter gun control and a woman’s right to choose. On that, she contrasted the party’s position with her opponent’s “disgusting” one: banning abortion, even in the case of incest and rape.
“Democrats, are we shutting up?” she asked.
“No!” came the reply.
“We are going to fight and fight and fight,” Demings said. “That future of opportunity rests in the hands of the people in the Democratic Party. We can win!”
The crowd erupted in chants of “Chief, chief, chief,” as the former Orlando Police Chief climbed down from the stage.
The event was also a fundraiser, with tickets ranging from $100 to $5,000.
Before the marquee names got up to speak, the crowd had the opportunity to hear from some of the candidates down the ballot. Adam Hattersley, the Democratic nominee for Chief Financial Officer, spoke, and the crowd learned he was a rocket scientist. Naomi Esther Blemur, Democratic nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, also spoke, conjuring her grandmother, a Haitian immigrant, unable to speak English, picking tomatoes.
“For 10 years, she picked tomatoes, never having proper health care, never having a pension or the possibility of owning the farm,” Blemur said. “But this senior citizen was sowing a seed and that seed has produced the first woman of color to qualify to run for the Commissioner of Agriculture.”
Before Crist came onstage, Fried gamely thanked the crowd for her 3 ½ years serving as the state’s Agriculture Commissioner. But other local candidates who lost their Primary did not attend.
That includes former Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, who challenged the Leader Book in Senate District 35, and former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who lost his Primary to U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in Florida’s 20th Congressional District.
Fried promised she would still be out on the public stage. “I will be out there every day fighting for this ticket,” she said, before exiting the stage as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” played.