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Leon County voters cite education, abortion as top issues in governor's race

A white building sits under a cloudy sky.
Valerie Crowder
Voters cast their primary Election Day ballots at the Leon County Supervisor of Elections Office on Apalachee Parkway in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

Ahead of the November election for governor, Leon County voters say two issues are of greatest concern: education and abortion.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist in the upcoming general election, which takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

“The abortion issue is a really big one, especially as a female,” said 36-year-old Tallahassee resident Cassie McCallister, a registered Democrat. McCallister says she voted for Crist in the primary election because she believes “he’s got a better chance against DeSantis."

An analysis from the Cook Political Report shows Florida is a likely Republican state, meaning it’s an uphill battle for Democrats, but a DeSantis win isn’t a guarantee. Crist has widespread name recognition and a long career in public office. And when DeSantis was elected governor in 2018 it was close; he won by less than half a percentage point.

But Republicans have made significant gains over Democrats in voter registration totals since DeSantis took office.

Tallahassee resident Andy Hlushak, 36, and his wife moved to the state in June because they wanted to live in a "more free state."

“We like to make the joke that everything in nature in Florida wants to kill you — bugs, alligators, hurricanes. The government in Colorado wants to kill you,” Hlushak said. “We wanted to leave and come to a place that’s a little more free.”

For instance, Hlushak says he disagrees with Colorado’s abortion law, which allows the procedure at any term throughout a person's pregnancy. “I’m very much pro-life,” Hlushak said. “I believe abortion is murdering a baby.”

Hlushak, who isn’t yet registered to vote, said he plans to register in time to vote in the November election. He says he's leaning toward voting for DeSantis.

“It seemed like Florida had a better trajectory than Colorado in terms of freedom of education choice for my kids,” he said. Hlushak and his wife homeschool their children, and they say Colorado’s laws over homeschooling have become too restrictive.

Democrats have criticized DeSantis’ administration for pushing through policies restricting the way race and gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in public schools.

Tallahassee resident Arnett Moore, 63, is a registered Democrat. Education is also on the top of his mind heading into the general election.

“From a gubernatorial standpoint, I think it’s important for us to consider what we’re doing for our students here in the state,” he said. “Right now there are way too many mandates placed on our education system, and we’re not allowing our students the freedom to learn as they should.”

A recent poll of likely voters shows a statistical tie between DeSantis and Crist, with both candidates’ level of support falling within the margin of error. Of the 1,626 voters surveyed in the AARP-commissioned poll, 50% said they’d vote for DeSantis and 47% said they’d choose Crist. The three point difference between the two candidates is within the poll’s 4.4 percentage-point margin of error. Voters aged 50 and older were overly represented in the poll. DeSantis led among that group by 7 percentage points.

Democratic voter Ken Walling, 72, voted for Crist in the primary election, and plans to vote for him again in the general election. “I think he’s level-headed, and I think he’s honest.”

59-year-old Republican voter Betsy Johnson says DeSantis has both her vote and the vote of her husband, who’s a registered Democrat.

“The way we’re teaching our children, as Governor DeSantis says, we’re fighting for our freedoms. I’m more interested in that,” she said. “My husband’s a Democrat and he’s on board with that.”

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.