TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist, Florida’s two Democratic candidates for governor, faced off Thursday in what is the only scheduled debate before the state’s Aug. 23 primary election.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is currently the only statewide elected democrat. She won that post in 2018 in an incredibly tight race that went into both a machine and manual recount.

Since that race, her pitch to voters is to be the first female governor in Florida history. Coinciding with these efforts, her campaign brand is “something new.”

“Democrats’ number one priority right now is beating [Gov.] Ron DeSantis and I’m somebody who has been doing that for three and a half years,” Fried said. “Not because I’m running for governor, but because that’s who I am.”

Heading into Thursday night’s debate, Fried trails in most polls. But after a well-received speech at the Leadership Blue conference in Tampa, she has gained some momentum.

“After people are watching this debate tonight, they’ll realize that look – we all wanna beat Ron DeSantis, but I’m the only one who can,” Fried told WFLA. “And so I’m just excited for everybody to watch and to see the debate because you’re gonna see that it’s time to put a female in charge.”

On the other side, Rep. Charlie Crist has held nearly every job in this state – from governor to attorney general.

Once a Republican, Crist switched parties and became a Democrat in 2012. He’s now running his campaign in hopes that voters will respond to his pleasant demeanor.

An endorser of Crist’s explained why she is betting on him. 

“He’s going to do the right thing no matter what. When things are difficult and when things don’t seem right he’s going to do what is right for the people, not just what’s right for the party,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said.