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Different moods on both sides of Tampa Bay after DeSantis' decisive win over Crist

Two women in red dresses standing next to men in suits
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Autumn Malagies, second from left, works in the vacation rental industry and says she appreciated Gov. Ron DeSantis lifting COVID-19 lockdowns earlier than other parts of the country.

Ron DeSantis supporters celebrated his win at the Tampa Convention Center, while Democrats at Crist's event in St. Petersburg wondered what's next for their party.

Election night events in the greater Tampa Bay region for Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist struck much different tones.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won a second term in a landslide victory, celebrated in front of a crowd of hundreds of supporters at the Tampa Convention Center, telling them he's "only begun to fight."

The mood was somber in St. Petersburg as Crist — the longtime Pinellas County legislator — conceded in his third run for Florida' governor.

DeSantis told supporters in his victory speech that Florida has become a "promised land" for Americans flocking to the state from more liberal parts of the country. He credited some of those new residents with bolstering his win.

"We have embraced freedom, we have maintained law and order, we have protected the rights of parents, we have respected our taxpayers and we reject 'woke ideology,' " DeSantis said.

Man in a red suit standing in front of a Welcome To The Free State Of Florida sign inside the Tampa Convention Center
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Gov. Ron DeSantis won a second term in a landslide victory against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist Tuesday evening. He celebrated in front of a crowd of hundreds of supporters at the Tampa Convention Center, telling them he's "only begun to fight."

That message resonated with longtime Floridians who backed him as well, like Autumn Malagies from Dunedin, where DeSantis graduated high school. She works in the vacation rental industry and says she appreciated the governor lifting COVID-19 lockdowns earlier than other parts of the country, against the advice of many medical experts.

"He's right on top of everything," Malagies said. "He's exactly the kind of leader that this country needs, and I'm looking forward to when that happens."

A nod to a potential presidential run for DeSantis, Plant City resident Gorge Padilla talked about a national future for the governor as well. Padilla moved to Florida from Cuba with his family when he was an infant and says he supports the governor's tough stance on immigration.

"Obviously as a selfish Floridian, I'd love him to stay for 4 years but if the governor decides to run I think he's got a good shot of making a difference," Padilla said.

Attendees at the party wouldn't say whether they'd choose DeSantis over former President Donald Trump as the next Republican nominee. Instead, they said they'd like to see the party unify.

Crist Supporters smiling into the camera
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Supporters for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist gather at the Hilton Carillon Park in St. Petersburg on Nov. 8, 2022.

Those who attended Crist's event, on the other hand, have some soul searching to do as they left the ballroom at Hilton Carillon Park in St. Petersburg considering what's next for their party in Florida.

Supporters at the watch party seemed resigned to a loss as soon as they began filing in to the ballroom.

Upbeat music played before the candidate's arrival, but the mood was muted at best with the gathered crowd almost eclipsed by members of the media.

Even so, the faithful warmly welcomed their candidate when he took the podium at 8:30 p.m. to give a concession speech that lasted just minutes.

"Florida has been great to me my entire life and I can't thank all of my fellow Floridians for so much for so long and its been an absolute blessing to serve as your governor before, to serve as the congressman from my hometown," Crist said. "I feel like the most blessed man ever."

Supporters were left to contemplate the future of the Democratic party in Florida. Some said they wish Crist had focused more of his messaging on the economy.

Karen DeGuise, of St. Petersburg, was more disappointed in voters who elevated Ron DeSantis, who is rumored to have presidential aspirations.

"Watch out America," DeGuise said. "[DeSantis] is coming for the presidency and we could have stopped him here, but we didn't. We had a reasonable, rational candidate who had good policies, a servant to the state of Florida, and now everybody gets to deal with him."

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.