Florida Democratic Congressman and former Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist on Tuesday launched his campaign to try to reclaim the governor's mansion.
"I'm running so you will be in charge again. So you will have a governor who will work for the people with a steady hand and an open heart. That is a moment built on consensus rather than fueling division. To restore civility instead of demonizing those who have a different point of view. Together we will build a Florida for all," he said at his campaign launch in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Crist first served as Florida's governor, as a Republican, from 2007 to 2011. After an unsuccessful bid to be the state's GOP nominee for a Senate seat in 2010, Crist became a Democrat in 2012. He lost to Republican Rick Scott in Florida's 2014 gubernatorial race by 1 percentage point.
He was elected to Florida's 13th District in 2016, winning the St. Petersburg area seat by 3.5 points. He widened his margin to double digits in 2018 but won in 2020 by 6 points. His prior opponent, Republican Anna Paulina Luna, announced her own congressional campaign on Tuesday morning.
Florida is set to gain a congressional seat this decade, according to apportionment numbers released by the Census Bureau in late April. The GOP legislature controls the redrawing of the lines and could reconfigure the 13th District to make it more amenable to a Republican candidate.
Crist told supporters on Tuesday that his administration would focus on voting rights, expanding Medicaid, addressing the threat of climate change and investing in education. He also railed at Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"How many lives would've been saved if Governor DeSantis 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.
"How many small businesses would've been saved, if Governor DeSantis recognized the key to rebuilding our economy isn't politics? It's beating the virus and ensuring people's safety."
While Crist and other Democrats have bashed DeSantis' COVID policies, conservatives have widely praised his handling of the pandemic. On Monday DeSantis issued an executive order suspending all local COVID-19 emergency mandates and outlawing those mandates as of July 1. He also signed a bill banning businesses and other entities from requiring so-called "vaccine passports."
And Crist may also be facing a crowded Democratic primary field. Fellow Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Demings posted a campaign video Tuesday morning that highlighted her path to Congress and her place on the shortlist for President Biden's running mate last summer. In April, she retweeted a Tweet from former Florida Congresswoman Debbie Murcarsel-Powell that said, "It is time Florida elects a WOMAN for Governor."
Fried has frequently taken aim at DeSantis and Florida Republicans over policy initiatives, such as taxes and voting rights, and the state of the GOP. On Tuesday morning, she commented on a tweet from a reporter who said she was thinking about the time Crist said Florida was desperate for "more leaders like Nikki."
"Me, too. :)" Fried said.
The candidate who emerges from the Democratic primary field will face a formidable challenge in taking on DeSantis. Republicans have won almost every statewide election over the past 10 years. Former President Trump won the state twice, including a three-point victory in November.
"Floridians have rejected Crist as a statewide candidate twice already, and whether it's in the Democratic primary or the general they'll do the same again this time," said Republican Governors Association spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez.
DeSantis is widely seen as a potential 2024 GOP candidate and will likely attract top Republican operatives to work on his reelection effort. His political committee raised a combined $8.3 million in February and March. The committee started April with about $17.7 million cash on hand. A poll from late February found DeSantis had a 53% approval rating.
The Florida legislature just wrapped up a session in which it passed bills targeting several key conservative issues, including election laws, punishing social media companies for banning elected officials, a so-called "anti-riot" bill and banning transgender females from participating in women's and girls' sports.
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