Former Gov. Charlie Crist is the first Democrat to formally announce for his party’s nomination to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis next year.
Crist made the announcement on Tuesday via his Twitter feed ahead of an appearance in St. Petersburg.
“Florida should be a place where hard work is rewarded, justice is equal, and opportunity is right in front of you. That’s a Florida for all — and that’s why I’m running for governor,” Crist wrote.
During a subsequent campaign rally, Crist tied DeSantis firmly to Donald Trump, the governor’s political mentor.
“Just like our former president, he always claims credit and never takes responsibility,” Crist said.
“How many lives would have been saved if Gov. DeSantis had listened to the scientists and medical experts? If he had simply promoted a mask-wearing and social distancing policy instead of a political agenda? ” Crist said, referring to the governor’s record on COVID.
“How may lives would have been saved if Gov. DeSantis had implemented a statewide plan to protect Floridians? How many small businesses would have been saved if Gov. DeSantis recognized that the key to rebuilding our economy isn’t politics, its beating the virus and ensuring people’s safety? The truth is, Gov. DeSantis has failed us.”
DeSantis mocked Crist in remarks to reporters following a Florida Cabinet meeting, noting that he’d lost statewide runs against Republicans for governor and U.S. senator as a Democrat and independent.
“Which party he’s going to run under? Do we know for sure?” DeSantis said.
“Now I see he’s voting with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time. He could probably give it a run for the Green Party, San Francisco liberal Green Party. So who knows what’s going to happen with that.”
Crist, who served as a Republican governor between 2007 and 2011, won election as a Democrat to Congress from the St. Petersburg area in 2016 and has served there since then. He made his announcement as the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature prepares to draw new congressional districts in light of the new census data.
Also gearing up for the Democratic primary is Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, who has attacked DeSantis in a series of fundraising newsletters for the past several months. Val Demings, a congresswoman from Orlando who helped prosecute the first impeachment case against Donald Trump, is considering a challenge either to DeSantis or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Both are Republicans.
Demings posted what looked an awful lot like a campaign video on her Twitter page, writing, “Ready for the moment.”
During her own news conference, during which she attacked DeSantis and the GOP-dominated Legislature, Fried said she would have preferred to see Crist remain in Congress.
“His seat is one that only probably Charlie Crist can hold onto. So, really would like to have encouraged him to stay in Congress, but certainly today is Charlie’s day, and wish him the best of luck,” Fried said.
“As the only statewide elected Democrat, it makes absolute sense for me to be running for governor. But today is not the day for me to make that announcement,” Fried said.
“It is becoming clearer and clearer — from my comments today, from what we’ve seen from this governor in the past two and a half years ago — that he must be a one-term governor,” she said.
In a campaign video, seemingly ordinary Floridians recall Crist as a governor who stood up for the environment, voting rights, women’s rights, and investments in the public schools.
“But today, Florida has a governor that’s only focused on his future, not yours,” Crist says in the video.
“While COVID took the lives of 35,000 Floridians, DeSantis attacked doctors and scientists, he blocked health insurance for 800,000 Floridians, refusing to expand Medicaid. Denied unemployment benefits to women who were pregnant and handed out vaccines to wealthy contributors while seniors were left waiting,” he says.
Crist also attacked DeSantis for pushing restrictions on mail-in voting through the recently concluded legislative session, and for opposing a $15 minimum wage, background checks for gun purchases, and abortion rights.
“Doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and, unless you can write him a campaign check, you don’t exist,” Crist adds over footage of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
During his speech, Crist also targeted DeSantis and legislative Republicans for passing legislation raising $1 billion in online sales taxes but giving the money to businesses facing sharp increases in unemployment taxes. He also singled out a bill discriminating against trans girls who want to play school sports.
“Unbelievable. Outright discrimination against transgender kids. Mean and cruel to children. This agenda is shameful and it doesn’t represent Floridians,” he said.
“And nothing is as shameful as the way DeSantis steered vaccine shots to the wealthy, white neighborhoods of his most generous supporters.”
Crist outlines three priorities: Expanding civil rights and voting rights; attacking climate change; and investing in public education.
He traced what he considered an ugly turn in GOP politics over the past decade.
“They demonize, distract, and divide Floridians, even lying to their own supporters, because they know the truth: that their agenda does next to nothing to help Floridians in the middle class and everyone working hard to get there. Their violent mob that attacked the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 shows the consequences of those lies. Gov. DeSantis is trying to become a national leader of that Republican Party.”
DeSantis defended his management of the pandemic.
“I implore them, from my political interests, run on closing schools, run on locking people down, run on closing businesses,” the governor said. “I would love to have that debate.”
Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Gov. DeSantis, Nikki Fried, Val Demings, and Crist’s campaign speech.