TALLAHASSEE – Rep. Charlie Crist, the former governor of Florida who ended up quitting the Republican Party amid the Tea Party backlash against Barack Obama, has become the first leading Democrat in the state to announce an attempt to overthrow incumbent Governor Ron DeSantis.
But Crist’s announcement on Tuesday – filled with a gospel choir and flags fluttering in the wind – was almost overshadowed by rival Democrats who were also planning their own challenges.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who held a press conference calling on DeSantis to veto a long string of bills, almost guaranteed on Tuesday that she would run for governor. And Rep Val Demings posted a biographical video on his social media account that seemed tailor-made for an expected offer.
Crist, however, did not mention his fellow Democrats during his launch speech in St. Petersburg. Instead, he has targeted DeSantis and Republicans as being out of touch and unresponsive in helping Floridians during the year-long pandemic. He gave his speech ahead of a five-day statewide tour he is launching to publicize his latest race.
“He’s a governor who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t care and think about you – unless of course you can write a campaign check,” Crist said. “Truly, he sees the wonderful diversity of our state as a threat, not a force that we all celebrate. He failed to lead during the biggest health and economic crisis of our lives. “
He also said that DeSantis – a potential 2024 presidential candidate – was more interested in his “personal political fortune” and linked him to former President Donald Trump as someone “who always takes the credit but never takes responsibility ”.
DeSantis dismissed Crist’s challenge on Tuesday, joking, “Which party is he going to run for?” After noting that he sided with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DeSantis suggested Crist should run as a Green Party candidate rather than a Democrat.
DeSantis, who has consistently touted his resistance to lockdowns and mask warrants during the pandemic, also said he welcomed the debate over his handling of the Covid pandemic with Crist and other Democrats.
“If you look at our condition and how we’re doing, I don’t think people could dispute the outcome,” DeSantis said. “Please run in lockdown, run against us giving priority to the elderly.
This will be Crist’s third candidacy for governor. After winning his first race in 2006 as a GOP candidate, he opted to run for the US Senate in 2010 as an Independent to lose to Marco Rubio. He ran for governor again in 2014 only to narrowly lose to outgoing President Rick Scott in 2014.
Even when he was governor, Crist took moderate positions and pushed to restore the franchise to former criminals. He eagerly welcomed stimulus help from the federal government during the Great Recession, but blamed animosity towards Obama over his decision to quit the Republican Party. His opening video includes footage of Obama praising Crist as well as a clip of Crist hugging Obama at a 2009 rally that created a storm of controversy for him at the time.
Crist has always worn the character of a “happy warrior” and has a natural ease with campaigning and fundraising. Asked earlier this year how he expected to face a crowded Democratic primary, Crist compared himself to President Joe Biden.
Florida has still not elected a Democratic governor since 1994. And Crist’s path to the Democratic nomination is far from guaranteed.
Fried, who built a campaign organization before 2022, said it was “Charlie’s Day,” but clarified that his candidacy was coming soon.
“As the only democrat elected in the entire state, it makes absolute sense for me to run for governor. But today is not the day to make that announcement, ”Fried told reporters.
Demings, who achieved national notoriety during Trump’s first impeachment and was seen as a running mate for Biden, is also expected to enter the race. She posted a video Tuesday morning that highlighted her rise as police chief and then her campaign for Congress. In it, Demings said, “Success isn’t just about preparation, it’s about opportunity.”
The Democratic candidate will have a tough battle against DeSantis, who has become a conservative celebrity for his contempt of the media, his fight against Covid-19 restrictions and a legislative agenda that targeted Big Tech as well as protesters in the wake of the protests of summer anti-police brutality. DeSantis has also already raised millions for his re-election, including a contribution of $ 2.8 million last week from the Republican Governor’s Association.
Crist was first elected to Congress in 2016, and his decision to run for governor will likely put his Congressional district on the line as a possible takeover for Republicans next year. Anna Paulina Luna, who won the GOP primary with the support of Rep. Matt Gaetz and other Tory stalwarts, has already announced that she will run for the seat again.
Matt Dixon contributed to this report.