Florida Gov.and his Democratic challenger former Rep. squared off Monday in their first and only debate, trading sharp elbows on the sitting governor's likely presidential ambition and immigration.
Early voting has already begun in the state.
At different moments in the debate, Crist asked DeSantis if he would carry out a full second term in office, suggesting his opponent would forgo the remainder of a second term in order to run for president in 2024.
"Why don't you look in the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them if you're re-elected, you will serve a full four-year term as governor," Crist asked DeSantis. "Will you serve a full four-year term if you're reelected governor of Florida? It's not a tough question. It's a fair question."
"I know that Charlie's interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make things very, very clear," DeSantis shot back. "The only worn-out, old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist."
DeSantis never directly answered whether he would serve the entirety of a second term as governor were he to be re-elected. A rising star in the Republican Party,that DeSantis poses the greatest political threat to former President Donald Trump in 2024, if they both were to jump into the race.
The two candidates also took aim at each other over the issue of immigration.
Crist criticized DeSantis' move last month tofrom San Antonio, Texas, to Martha's Vineyard as part of an ongoing strategy by Republican governors to send migrants to heavily-Democratic cities without any warning.
"I thought what the governor did was a horrible political stunt," Crist said, adding that it was a misuse of taxpayer money.
Conceding there is a "problem" at the southern border, Crist said, "You can change policy and do what's right to secure the border by having comprehensive immigration reform."
DeSantis argued the spike in migration to the U.S. was a result of the policies Crist supported in Congress.
"We had the border that was in much better shape in January of 2021. The Biden administration reversed almost every policy that was in place and they opened the floodgates," DeSantis said. "That's why we have the problem."
DeSantis also said Democrats' criticism of his decision is selective. "It's only when they go to D.C., New York, or of course, Martha's Vineyard," DeSantis said.
There was at least one issue on which the two found common ground:in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, should be sentenced to death.
"This is one thing we actually agree on," Crist said. "I believe that that young man should have gotten the death penalty for killing 17 innocent students in our schools."
DeSantis said he would ask the state legislature to amend the statute that required a jury to find unanimous support in order to recommend the death penalty. A jury last week recommended Cruz spend life in prison without the ability for parole after it was unable to reach that unanimous threshold.
The debate broadcast statewide by Sinclair Broadcasting Group comes two weeks before Election Day. More than 1.1 million mail-in ballots have already been cast, more than a third of the ballots sent out, according to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections. That's nearly 15% of the total votes cast for governor in 2018. Further, in-person early voting kicked off in most of the state Monday.
The race is an uphill battle for Crist – despite that DeSantis only won in 2018 by, the state has been trending in Republicans' favor. Former President Donald Trump's margin of victory in the state more than doubled between 2016 and 2020, from 1.2% to 3.3%. Meanwhile, next month's election will be Florida Republicans' first in at least half a century in which they have a registration advantage over Democrats. Plus, Republicans have won every gubernatorial race since 1998, including when Crist served as a one-term Republican governor from 2007-11.
Crist is also trailing DeSantis in the money race. As of mid-October, DeSantis had 45 times more cash on hand than Crist, according to financial reports filed with the Florida Department of State Division of Elections. DeSantis had $97.7 million between his campaign and political committee accounts compared to Crist's $2.17 million.
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