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Crist continues comeback in Fla. as Democrat

Former Florida governor Charlie Crist hugged his running mate, Annette Taddeo, at their victory party Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Former Florida governor Charlie Crist hugged his running mate, Annette Taddeo, at their victory party Tuesday night.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Former Republican governor Charlie Crist continued his political comeback Tuesday as Democratic voters selected him as their nominee to challenge Republican Governor Rick Scott in Florida, one of four states where voters were choosing candidates for statewide office.

Crist easily defeated former state senator Nan Rich, while Scott coasted in his own primary toward a general election matching the state’s last two Republican governors. Both have struggled with sagging approval ratings and run-ins with conservatives.

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‘‘It’s a wonderful night,’’ Crist declared after accepting a concession call from Rich.

Crist said the strong showing is a sign that Democrats believe in him. ‘‘Frankly, I think I was on their side when I was in the other party,’’ he said as he prepared a victory speech.

In Vermont, Republican businessman Scott Milne defeated two fellow GOP hopefuls and a Libertarian’s write-in bid Tuesday for the chance to face two-term Democratic incumbent Governor Peter Shumlin in November.

Representative Peter Welch ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination in his bid for a fifth term. Three Republicans vied for the chance to challenge him in November, with Mark Donka and Donald Russell nearly neck-and-neck and Donald Nolte still within striking distance with votes still being counted Tuesday night.

In Arizona, state Treasurer and former CEO Doug Ducey won the Republican primary for governor.

The race to replace Republican Governor Jan Brewer began as a fairly quiet contest focused on health care and jobs before shifting abruptly when thousands of immigrant children began pouring into the country and some settled in Arizona.

In Oklahoma, Democrats chose state Senator Connie Johnson as their Senate nominee over perennial candidate Jim Rogers. Johnson will be a general election underdog against Representative James Lankford for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Tom Coburn.

Unofficial returns in Florida, with nearly two-thirds of precincts reporting, showed Crist with a 3-to-1 lead over Rich, who had been campaigning for governor longer than Crist has been a Democrat. Crist was heavily favored, but it was important for him to post a wide margin to demonstrate that his new party has embraced him four years after he lost a Senate race to Republican Marco Rubio. Crist was an independent then.

Democrats view the seat as a key pickup opportunity in a state President Obama won twice.

Crist, 58, previously won three statewide races as a GOP candidate, and it wasn’t that long ago that he called himself a Ronald Reagan/Jeb Bush Republican. He was once considered a potential running mate for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and had the backing of GOP leaders in a 2010 bid for Senate — until Rubio used an image of Crist hugging Obama to chase Crist from the primary. Crist then ran as an independent, but he ended up a distant second. In 2012, he endorsed Obama for a second term.

Scott, 61, who had minor primary opposition, has already spent millions of dollars on ads criticizing Crist and pointing out how he has changed his positions.

A Crist vs. Scott general election matchup would be sure to feature a high-profile debate over Obama’s health care overhaul.

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