U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist announces third run for Florida governor

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Steven Lemongello, Orlando Sentinel
·4 min read
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Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist announced his second run for governor as a Democrat on Tuesday, kicking off a campaign that likely will draw more members of his party into the race.

Crist, a member of the U.S. House, is the first Democrat to declare officially he will take on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis next year.

Crist lambasted DeSantis at a kickoff event in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

“Gov. DeSantis’ vision of Florida is clear,” Crist said. “If you want to vote, he won’t help you. If you’re working, he won’t support you. If you’re a woman, he will not empower you. If you’re an immigrant, he won’t accept you. If you’re facing discrimination, he won’t respect you. If you’re sick, he won’t care for you. If you’re impacted by climate change, and we all are, he won’t even believe you. That’s not a vision for our state.”

Defeating DeSantis won’t be an easy task. He has already raised $18 million in campaign contributions since his election in 2018.

Crist acknowledged, “Changing this is not going to be easy.”

“Powerful, special interests depend on Gov. DeSantis for their massive profits,” Crist said. “And they’ll spend tens of millions of dollars to stop us. ... But nothing in life worth fighting for is easy. I’m announcing today that I’m running for governor of Florida for a Florida for all.”

Crist said he would protect civil rights and human rights; make it easier to vote, not “harder;” respect constitutional amendments approved by voters; expand Medicaid; name a chief climate change officer; and invest in infrastructure.

“Listen, I know this is an ambitious agenda. But we can get it done,” he said.

Crist officially kicked off his campaign early Tuesday with a video on Twitter touting his accomplishments in office. It also included footage of his handshake with then-President Obama as a GOP governor, which was controversial among Republicans at the time.

Crist, a former state attorney general and education commissioner, was first elected governor in 2006 as a Republican. He later became an independent to launch an unsuccessful bid against Republican Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate in 2010.

In 2014, he won the Democratic nomination for governor and ran against Republican Gov. Rick Scott but lost to him by 1%. Crist won a seat in Congress in 2016, defeating GOP incumbent David Jolly.

In response, DeSantis took aim at Crist’s party-switching.

“I just wonder which party is he going to run under? Do we know for sure?” the governor said. “I thought about it because you know, he’s run as a Republican and lost, independent and lost, Democrat and lost. Now I see he’s voting with [U.S. House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time. He could probably give it a run for the Green Party in San Francisco. So, who knows what is going to happen with that?”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, state Sen. Randolph Bracy and state Rep. Anna Eskamani have all expressed interest in running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

“Winning the Democratic primary is going to be fairly difficult,” said Susan MacManus, political science professor emerita at the University of South Florida. “... Florida’s Democratic Party composition today is much different than the last time he [Crist] ran for a statewide office. Women are a larger share of registrants. [It’s] very diverse, and also younger. So if a Demings or Fried runs against him, it’s likely to be a very competitive race.”

Fried said Tuesday that DeSantis “must be a one-term governor. And 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 be making this announcement.”

She added that it would have been better for Crist to stay in Congress instead of running for governor.

“But certainly today is Charlie’s day, and I wish him the best of luck,” she said.

Sun Sentinel staff writer Anthony Man contributed to this report. slemongello@orlandosentinel.com