Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist spar in Florida's raucous gubernatorial debate: Live updates

Potential Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis repeatedly refused to commit to serving another four years as Florida governor if re-elected, and said during a debate Monday he is currently focused on defeating Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.

Amid growing speculation he might run for president in 2024 against Joe Biden, DeSantis said during a heated clash in Fort Pierce, Fla., that "the only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist."

Monday's face-off will serve as the only televised debate before election night.

Crist, trying to end DeSantis' governorship in 2022, said the incumbent is more interested in running for president two years from now, and that he is doing it by promoting divisive social issues such as opposition to abortion and school regulations that target gay, lesbian and transgender students.

Florida's Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist, a former governor, take the stage at Sunrise Theatre for their only scheduled debate, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Fort Pierce.
Florida's Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist, a former governor, take the stage at Sunrise Theatre for their only scheduled debate, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Fort Pierce.

Crist, Florida's former governor from 2007 to 2011, previously served the Sunshine State as a Republican but switched to the Democratic Party in 2012. Since 2017, he's represented the St. Petersburg area in the U.S. House. He's facing an uphill battle against DeSantis, who has been dominating national headlines as he appears to be preparing a 2024 presidential bid as a successor to former President Trump.

Crist has been consistently trailing behind DeSantis in polling, with the governor enjoying a sizeable 11 percentage point lead over Crist at 52%-41%, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released earlier this month.

"I want to bring this state back together, and not have a divider as governor," Crist said at one point. At another point, Crist told DeSantis: "We know you love to bully people."

More: Five takeaways from Florida governor race debate between Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist

More: Abortion, voting and COVID-19: Why we're eyeing these 10 governor's races in 2022 midterms

The two candidates also clashed over COVID lockdowns, hurricane preparation, immigration, and the economy.

Crist said DeSantis is trying to appeal to Republicans nationally by opposing migrants, abortion, and scientists who warned that his too-open approach to COVID left too many people vulnerable to infection - and death.

Throughout the evening, DeSantis sought to link Crist to Biden, and Democratic tax, regulation, and COVID policies that he said have boosted inflation and slowed the economy.

Some highlights from Monday's debate:

Oct 24, 2022; Fort Pierce, FL, USA; Scenes outside of the Sunrise Theatre hours ahead of the 2022 Florida Gubernatorial Debate held in Fort Pierce on Oct. 24, 2022. The televised debate between Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist starts at 7 p.m.
Oct 24, 2022; Fort Pierce, FL, USA; Scenes outside of the Sunrise Theatre hours ahead of the 2022 Florida Gubernatorial Debate held in Fort Pierce on Oct. 24, 2022. The televised debate between Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist starts at 7 p.m.

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DeSantis in closing, cites administrative successes

DeSantis, in his closing statement, pointed to his administration's successes with the state's budget surplus and unemployment rates.

“We have the largest budget surplus in history. We have a 2.5% unemployment, second lowest on record,” said DeSantis, before turning to his administration's policies to open up Florida during the COVID pandemic while other states were more cautious.

“When a once-in-a century pandemic hit, I lead based on facts, not based on fear. I lifted you up. While some like Charlie Crist wanted to lock you down,” continued DeSantis, “I took the arrows so you wouldn’t have to.”

- Ken Tran

In closing statement, Crist recalls his previous time as governor

In his closing statement to Floridians watching the debate, Crist recounted his time as the former Governor of Florida.

“I love Florida. I love it with all my heart,” said Crist. “I want to make Florida affordable again. When I was governor, I lowered your property insurance. When I was governor I made sure we had an affordable economy even in a recession.”

Florida's Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist, a former governor, take the stage at Sunrise Theatre for their only scheduled debate, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Fort Pierce.
Florida's Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist, a former governor, take the stage at Sunrise Theatre for their only scheduled debate, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Fort Pierce.

Crist again criticized DeSantis, pointing to speculations the current governor is mounting a presidential bid in 2024.

“He won’t even tell you if he’ll serve four years if you re-elect him. I mean, come on. You deserve better than that," Crist said. "Florida deserves better than that.”

- Ken Tran

Crist on border and immigration reform

Crist said comprehensive immigration reform legislation that's failed to advance in Congress is necessary to secure the border and accused DeSantis of not willing to do it while Congress because he likes having it as an issue for "political scoring."

Crist took a moment to remind the audience that DeSantis wouldn't answer his earlier question about whether DeSantis would serve a full, four year term as governor if he was reelected.

"You're running for governor, you're asking them to vote for you for governor. At a minimum you ought to be able to tell them if you get reelected you'll serve as governor. Ron?" Crist asked, turning to DeSantis.

DeSantis, again, deflected the question and began speaking about the shape of the border under the Biden administration's policy.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

Crist cites votes in Congress on funding law enforcement

Crist blamed rising crime rates in Florida on DeSantis as the incumbent governor.

“How come crime is up under your four years as our governor?” Crist said, then defending himself against claims he supports defunding the police. “As a member of Congress, I voted for another $200 billion to go to law enforcement in our country to fund the police.”

- Ken Tran

DeSantis: ‘Prosecutors aren’t above the law’

DeSantis said prosecutors are not above the law and don’t have the right to veto duly enacted statutes, adding that Crist supports prosecutors that are ignoring the law in areas where crime is spiking.

DeSantis said in Florida, prosecutors can’t be “a law onto yourself," adding that duly enacted statutes must be enforced.

- Rachel Looker 

DeSantis: 'We're talking about 13, 14, 15 year-old kids."

Responding to Crist's comment to allow those seeking gender-affirming surgery to decide what they want with their bodies, DeSantis said they're talking about "kids" that aren't in a position to know whether they can "undergo a radical procedure that physically alters your body."

DeSantis compared a tattoo to gender-affirming surgery, saying that 15-year-olds can't get a tattoo in the state of Florida. He said it was inappropriate and that the state will not allow it to happen.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

Crist blasts DeSantis for suspension of Tampa Bay attorney

Crist attacked DeSantis for his suspension of a Tampa Bay attorney after announcing he would not enforce laws on transgender or abortion care.

“We have a state attorney in Tampa Bay named Andrew Warren that (DeSantis) of his own volition decided to kick out of office and suspend because he actually spoke about what he felt about an issue,” said Crist. “That used to be called freedom of speech in the country.”

Turning to DeSantis, Crist told him “Governor, I know you went to Harvard Law School, but you need to study the constitution again.”

- Ken Tran

Crist agrees with DeSantis on death penalty sentence for Parkland shooter

When asked about whether the Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz should have received the death penalty, Crist said he agrees with DeSantis that Cruz should have been sentenced to death.

Crist said these are not easy decisions, but the law needs to be carried out.

- Rachel Looker 

Crist on the state's COVID-19 death rates

Crist said that he would have listened to scientists during the COVID-19 pandemic unlike DeSantis, calling the current governor "so arrogant" that he wouldn't listen to health care providers' guidance during the pandemic.

"You take a common sense approach and to do what's right," Crist said. "We've lost 82,000 of our fellow Floridians."

Crist claimed that if Florida had the standards of other US states, 40,000 of those who died would still be alive today.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

DeSantis highlights solutions to opioids, drug smuggling

DeSantis said as governor, the state distributed half a million doses of Narcan to first responders and formed a Coordinated Opioids Recovery program to get people who are evicted to have stabilization in their life.

He said there are now 12 addiction stabilization centers in Florida. DeSantis said he also signed legislation raising the penalties for people trafficking fentanyl.

Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a debate with his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a debate with his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

“If you’re trafficking that garbage, that poison, you are killing people in our state and we are going to treat you like the murderer you are,” he said.

- Rachel Looker 

DeSantis on abortion ban

When asked about what point in a pregnancy should abortions be banned, DeSantis recalled a story of Jamaican woman who went to get abortion, but ended up having the child.

"I think about that because a few months ago I appointed her daughter to be the first Jamaican-American justice in the history of the Florida Supreme Court," DeSantis said.

DeSantis went on to say he's proud of his 15-week abortion ban and knows that his opponent is opposed to the bill, before saying that the fetus is "fully-formed" at 15 weeks. He also accused Crist of supporting sex-selective and dismemberment abortions.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

DeSantis on Parkland shooter ruling: ‘I think he deserves the ultimate punishment’

DeSantis gave a scathing rebuke of a Florida jury’s ruling that delivered a life sentence to Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, calling for the death penalty instead.

“I think he deserves the ultimate punishment. When you murder in cold blood 17 innocent people (at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School), there’s no other punishment that meets the gravity of that crime,” said DeSantis, vowing to amend Florida law “so that one juror doesn’t have veto power over appropriate punishment.”

- Ken Tran

Crist hits back on gender transition

Crist said DeSantis talks about gender transition like “it’s fun.”

He said these are difficult issues that deserve mature leadership and that Floridians deserve a governor who understands a woman has a right to choose. He said he learned at a young age to respect all.

“It just doesn’t sound to me like Governor DeSantis wants to do that to respect some other families’ decision about what they want for their children,” Crist said.

- Rachel Looker 

DeSantis claims falsely Crist supports defunding the police

DeSantis accused Crist of supporting leftist calls to "defund the police," even though the former congressman has never endorsed such a policy.

Even so, DeSantis said anti-police policies would hurt constituents: "People are moving to Florida because we're a much safer state," he said.

– David Jackson

On crime, Crist touts credentials as former attorney general

When it comes to enforcing laws and lowering crime rates, Crist invoked his former credentials as Florida's top lawyer. Crist was attorney general of the stte from 2003-07.

“What you need to do is have somebody as an attorney general. I actually served as attorney general, the top cop of Florida,” said Crist. “I understood in that role, how important it was to enforce our laws and we did it day in and day out.”

Crist blamed DeSantis for rising crime rates under his current tenure as governor. “Crime is up under Governor DeSantis,” said Crist.

- Ken Tran

DeSantis highlights Florida’s focus on seniors first during pandemic

DeSantis said during the pandemic, the state placed an emphasis on seniors first, working with nursing homes and conducting testing. He said the results were that other states had higher COVID mortality rates for senior citizens than Florida.

“I think that that’s the approach people should have taken, focus on the vulnerable population, but make sure you’re not locking down the rest of the people," he said. "We’ve thrived as a result.”

DeSantis said this would not have happened if Crist locked down the state in July of 2020.

- Rachel Looker 

Crist hammers DeSantis for flights to Martha’s Vineyard

On the migrant crisis at the southern border, Crist called for more investment in the southern border, but then turned the issue back on DeSantis.

“It doesn’t mean that you use our taxpayer dollars to charter jet, go to Texas, lie to people to get them onto planes to fly them up to the northern part of country,” said Crist, blasting DeSantis for Florida’s state-funded program that flew migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Crist accused DeSantis of using migrants as “props for your political game.”

- Ken Tran

DeSantis on teacher pay

DeSantis attacked Crist in his rebuttal about the teacher shortages, saying that he believes teacher pay to be important and that Crist "did nothing about it" while governor.

The Florida governor said Crist cut $300 million from the education budget as governor while he has increased teacher compensation, raising the average minimum salary for teachers by 20% during the past four years.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

Desantis invokes culture wars on gender

DeSantis criticized gender-affirming care for children experiencing gender dysphoria, saying “it’s inappropriate to be doing basically what’s genital mutilation.”

“When they say gender-affirming care, they mean giving puberty blockers to teenage girls and teenage boys. They mean double mastectomy on young girls. They mean chemically castrating young boys,” DeSantis said.

“A lot of kids go through a lot of different things. A lot of the dysphoria resolves itself by the time they become an adult,” DeSantis said.

- Ken Tran

Crist to DeSantis: Gender-affirming surgery is not your business

Crist said DeSantis and the government have no business telling parents that their children should not have gender-affirming surgery.

Saying this is a family decision, Crist told the governor: "You want to be their judge."

Crist instead advocated the "golden rule" of treating others the way you want to be treated.

– David Jackson

Crist falls back on science for COVID response

Crist said he would have listened to scientists during COVID, claiming DeSantis did the opposite.

He added that the current governor could have kept things reopened but “with an eye toward what healthcare providers tell you.” He said DeSantis was arrogant by not listening to healthcare providers about mask wearing.

“Ron, I wouldn’t pat yourself on the back too much about your response to COVID,” Crist said. “We lost 82,000 of our fellow Floridians and when you look at the Thanksgiving table, one of those empty seats is probably one of those people for many families watching tonight.”

Crist claimed if Florida had the same standards of other states, half of those people would still be alive.

- Rachel Looker 

DeSantis' final comment on Critical Race Theory

In his last rebuttal on teaching CRT in schools, DeSantis says that teaching that the U.S. was built on "stolen lands" is inappropriate and "not true."

"I'm happy that we're going to be able to have accurate history and we're going to make sure we honor those who have sacrificed so that we can be free," DeSantis said.

Many historians would dispute DeSantis. Many white settlers of the North American continent pushed Native Americans off their land, especially during the push westward.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

DeSantis defends state policy in early days of pandemic

DeSantis criticized Crist for his call to close the state of Florida in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He called for harsh lockdowns in July of 2020. And if that had happened in this state, it would have destroyed the state of Florida,” said DeSantis.

“I lifted you up, I protected your rights. I made sure you can earn a living,” DeSantis continued, contrasting himself against Crist.

- Ken Tran

Crist says he does not want to ban abortion

Crist said DeSantis wouldn’t answer the question about completely banning abortion.

The Democratic congressman added that he does not want to ban abortion and wants to make sure a woman’s right to choose is available in the state of Florida.

Crist added that he wants to make sure any abortion law allows exceptions for rape and incest.

- Rachel Looker 

More: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, eliminating constitutional right to abortion

DeSantis calls into question Crist’s honesty on abortion

DeSantis, defending himself against Crist’s criticism of his views on abortion, questioned Crist’s pro-abortion right viewpoints, citing his previous anti-abortion viewpoints as a former Republican.

Incumbent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left), R, and former Gov. Charlie Crist, D, are pictured during a gubernatorial debate at the Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
Incumbent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left), R, and former Gov. Charlie Crist, D, are pictured during a gubernatorial debate at the Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

“Is this an honest change of heart? Or is this a guy that’s going to ship with whatever he needs to try to keep his political career alive?," DeSantis said. "I think we all know the answer to that question."

- Ken Tran

Crist: 'I'm a uniter' as DeSantis invoke culture wars

"There you go again, Ron. It's all about culture wars," Crist said to DeSantis before accusing him of always trying to be divisive as DeSantis brings up culture wars, which has been an influential factor in pushing legislation mainly affecting schools, including book bans.

"I'm a uniter. I think we need to give our state a chance to unite again," Crist said.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

More: These PACS are funding 'parents' rights advocates' running for local school board positions

DeSantis expresses opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools

DeSantis, turning back to education, made clear he opposed any fashion of a COVID vaccine mandate in public schools.

He accused Crist of wanting “to force students to get the COVID shot.”

“I think it’s wrong to force this on these kids,” said DeSantis, championing himself as a guardian of parental rights. “As long as I’m governor, as parents, you’re going to have the ability to make that decision.”

- Ken Tran

Crist says he prioritized teacher pay

Crist claimed when he was governor (2007-11), he prioritized teacher pay and paid teachers more per dollar than DeSantis is now. He added that when he was governor, there was a recession, but now DeSantis has a budget surplus.

“That’s how you need to lead. You need to lead by uniting people, not dividing them,” he said. “He talks about dividing us all night long. It’s what he does. It’s who you are. It’s what he’s about.”

- Rachel Looker 

Crist: Schools are not teaching hate

Crist said DeSantis keeps going back to radical comments that “have nothing to do with reality” regarding what is being taught in schools. He said DeSantis thinks they are teaching these concepts in other schools in other states.

“This is Florida. You’re the governor of Florida right now,” Crist said. “ You don’t even say if you want to be the governor of Florida after this election, but you are right now and you need to be focused on what’s happening in our schools.”

He added that Florida schools are not teaching hate, but claimed the current governor does not respect teachers.

- Rachel Looker 

Crist on teacher shortage: ‘Money does help’

On the nationwide teacher shortage and specifically, in Florida, Crist called for more investment in education to entice potential teachers to the field.

“Money does help,” said Crist, turning the question to DeSantis and the state’s $22 billion budget surplus, “He’s got a budget surplus. Why can’t you treat teachers better than that? That doesn’t make sense.”

- Ken Tran

Crist asks DeSantis whether he'll serve the full term as governor if elected

Crist asked DeSantis to look at the voters in the audience and say whether he'll serve a "full four year term as governor. Yes or no?"

After no answer, Crist pressed DeSantis: "Will you serve a full four year term if you're reelected governor of Florida?"

DeSantis remained silent.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

DeSantis defines divisiveness

DeSantis, when referring to policies that allow males transitioning to females to compete athletically against girls, said he thinks denying girls and women athletes the right to compete fairly is divisive, he said.

He added that Crist previously said anyone who casts a ballot in support of the current governor “has hate in their heart.”

He said Crist previously said anyone who casts a ballot in support of the current governor “has hate in their heart.”

DeSantis then went on to say he is endorsed by police groups, firefighters, truckers and the farm bureau.

“The whole cross section of the state of Florida is backing me. They do not have hate in their hearts because they reject Charlie Crist, they want to keep Florida and they want to keep Florida free,” he said.

- Rachel Looker 

Crist hits DeSantis over teaching race issue in schools

Crist hit DeSantis over his attacks on "critical race theory," saying it amounts to an effort to stop teaching any aspects of the nation's troubled racial history.

"We need to apply common sense," Crist said. "We need to do what's right."

– David Jackson

DeSantis: Schools shouldn’t ‘scapegoat’ on skin color

On discussions of race and history in the United States, DeSantis agreed that schools should teach “all of American history, including slavery, civil rights, segregation, it’s important that that’s taught.”

But, DeSantis argued, schools shouldn’t “scapegoat students based on skin color,” echoing Republican sentiments on the alleged teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

“We’re proud of our history. I don’t want to teach kids to hate our country,” said DeSantis.

- Ken Tran

DeSantis defends 'Don't Say Gay' law

The governor defended education policies that have drawn controversy, including the law that forbids elementary school teachers from discussing gender issues with children – the "Don't Say Gay" bill – as well as bans on males in girls' sports.

DeSantis sought to turn these issues on Crist, saying "you are the one waging the culture war."

– David Jackson

DeSantis jabs at Crist for 'hiding out in Puerto Rico'

The Florida governor countered Crist on Hurricane Ian and rebuilding the coast, saying he was proud of the state's response, in conducting rescues and getting the electricity back for Floridians.

DeSantis continued to list the things the state was able to do for its people before attacking Crist for "hiding out in Puerto Rico."

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

Crist, DeSantis resort to name calling

In his response to whether he would serve a full four-year term if reelected governor, DeSantis replied that he knows Crist is interested in talking about 2024 and President Biden, but said, “the only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”

DeSantis went on to say when Crist previously ran for governor, he ran saying he would not raise taxes but then did once elected.

“We know you love to bully people and the little name calling you just exchanged, I can take it,” Crist said in his response. “But you shouldn’t do it when students are standing behind you at a press conference and they’re wearing a mask."

- Rachel Looker

Crist blasts DeSantis on teacher pay

On education, Crist criticized DeSantis for the state’s low ranking in teacher salaries across the nation, citing a statistic that Florida is ranked 48th when it comes to pay for teachers.

“We need to focus on education and not politicize and make political warzones out of our schools,” said Crist, directly referring to DeSantis’ culture wars waged on discussion of sexual identity and gender in schools.

The National Education Association ranks Florida 48t48h in the nation for average teacher salary at $51,009.

- Ken Tran

DeSantis defends Hurricane Ian response in Tampa

Hitting back at Crist who claimed DeSantis “ignored science,” DeSantis defended his response, saying Crist was trying to “politicize” Hurricane Ian.

“The models had shifted into Sarasota, all the folks in southwest Florida were activated,” said DeSantis, applauding local community response. “I stand by every one of our local counties. They stood up and they made the best decisions.”

- Ken Tran

DeSantis hammers Crist - and Biden - over inflation

DeSantis again linked Crist to Biden by citing the high inflation rate that is hurting Floridians.

The governor proposed state tax relief as a way to take the pressure off Floridians.

Crist counter-attacked by saying DeSantis is more interested in running for president against Biden - and DeSantis, pressed by Crist, would not say whether he would serve all four years if he is re-elected governor.

– David Jackson

Crist: DeSantis ‘ignored science’

Crist said in his rebuttal whether dealing with COVID or the hurricane, DeSantis ignored science. He thinks he knows better than everybody, Crist said.

He went on to add that DeSantis thinks he’s the only one who has the right answer, citing DeSantis’s positions on banning books and usurping local school boards.

“You have to apply science and do what’s right for the people and protect them,” Crist said.

- Rachel Looker  

Crist: Florida is the 'most expensive state to live in'

Crist says that Florida is the most expensive state to live in according to Forbes magazine, noting that the cost of living has only increased under DeSantis while it went down under him when he served as Florida's governor.

Crist highlighted that property insurance doubled under DeSantis and has only gotten worse due to Hurricane Ian. Crist also tied the rising cost of gas to DeSantis, saying that gas prices increased under DeSantis' leadership.

- Sarah Elbeshbishi

Crist hits DeSantis over hurricane preparation

Crist went after DeSantis on storm preparation, saying the state was ill-prepared for Hurricane Ian and that the governor attended a football game as it approached instead of safeguarding the state.

Too many people were not evacuated and buildings on the coast were too vulnerable to the storm, Crist said.

DeSantis said electricity and roads were restored in record time, even though Crist was out of the state in Puerto Rico.

– David Jackson

DeSantis claims Crist’s homeowners insurance plan would ‘capsize’ Florida

DeSantis blamed rising fuel and natural gas prices on Biden, Crist and the Democrats running Congress.

“They are waging war on American energy, they are not producing what we need to do,” DeSantis said.

He added that Crist’s plan for homeowners insurance is to chase private insurers out, saying this would “end up capsizing the state of Florida if there was a real storm.”

- Rachel Looker  

Crist blames DeSantis for property insurance crisis

Crist, in his rebuttal to DeSantis, blamed the incumbent governor for the state’s freefalling property insurance industry.

“He’s talking about our economy. He’s talking about property insurance,” said Crist. “And everyone knows your property insurance is up under him.”

- Ken Tran

DeSantis and Crist joust over property insurance

The candidates argued about what to do regarding the rising costs of property insurance, a big issue in hurricane-ravaged Florida.

DeSantis blamed the Biden administration, saying inflation and increased lawsuit litigation have driven up insurance costs; he indicates there is little the state can do in light of these national forces.

Crist notes that a magazine determined that Florida is the most expensive state in which to live, including insurance costs; he blamed DeSantis de-regulation policies.

– David Jackson

DeSantis invokes on Biden in first question

DeSantis says that Crist votes with President Joe Biden “100% of the time,” side-stepping the moderators first question on increased cost of living in the state.

Audience members fill the Sunrise Theatre ahead of a debate between Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
Audience members fill the Sunrise Theatre ahead of a debate between Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

The governor also mentioned a letter Crist sent him in 2020, telling him to instruct people to shelter in place during the peak months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeSantis touted his decision to keep the state open during the pandemic while highlighting “biggest tax cuts in Florida history.”

- Sarah Elbeshbishi 

DeSantis touts school performance in rebuttal to Crist

DeSantis, defending his decision to keep schools and businesses open for the majority of the pandemic, touted the state's high ranking in fourth grade reading and math according to The Nation’s Report Card.

“That would not have happened if we let Charlie Crist and his friends lock our kids out of school," DeSantis said.

- Ken Tran

Crist calls DeSantis ‘shut down’ guy

In his rebuttal, Crist said DeSantis is the only governor in the history of the state of Florida to shut downs schools and businesses, referencing closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’re the one who is the shut down guy,” Crist said.

Crist said it’s important to have someone at the helm who follows science.

“You don’t just shut down at the outset and then when it’s politically convenient for you, you want to open back up to score political points for your race for president,” he said.

- Rachel Looker 

First question: The economy and housing - candidates avoid it

The first question to Crist is a local issue: What about housing for all those people who are moving into Florida?

Crist avoids the question to talk about the "stark contrast" between him and DeSantis, particularly the latter's opposition to abortion.

Housing and the midterms: ‘I don’t have any faith in the system’: Soaring housing costs have renters mulling how they’ll vote in the midterms

Crist then suggests unnamed regulation changes to make housing more affordable.

DeSantis also avoids addressing housing, and instead links Crist to President Joe Biden.

- David Jackson

DeSantis, Crist take the debate stage

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic candidate Charlie Crist have taken to the stage in Fort Pierce, Florida, to begin the first and last Florida gubernatorial debate ahead of the midterms.

DeSantis is seeking a second term as governor while Crist is hoping to become Florida’s first Democratic governor in 28 years.

The debate is set to last one hour.

- Rachel Looker 

How to watch

The debate is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT/4:00 p.m. PT.

The debate is being hosted by WPEC-TV and you can watch their livestream here. C-SPAN will also be airing the debate at this link.

- Ken Tran

Who is Ron DeSantis?

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, 44, is seeking his second term in office.

He has emerged as a possible presidential candidate after gaining national attention among the Republican party. The Republican governor has clashed with President Joe Biden over the COVID lockdown, vaccine policies and most recently, Biden's immigration policies.

More: 2024 presidential race preview? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis debates challenger Charlie Crist

DeSantis authorized the unannounced transport of nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard last month, riling up the left for using migrants as a political stunt. The move resulted in a criminal investigation and a federal class action lawsuit.

DeSantis was deployed to Iraq as an adviser to a U.S. Navy SEAL commander during his active duty service, according to a bio on his campaign website. He served in Congress representing Florida’s 6th District from 2013 until he was elected governor in 2019.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Aug. 24, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Aug. 24, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

The 46th governor of Florida has two daughters and one son, all under the age of six, with his wife Casey DeSantis, an Emmy award winning television host.

- Rachel Looker

Who is Charlie Crist?

Charlie Crist, 66, formerly served as Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. Since switching parties, this will be the now-Democrat's second attempt at office.

The Democratic candidate resigned from Congress where he represented Florida’s 13th district, a position he held since 2017, to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

The former governor recently received the endorsement from President Barack Obama, who has been campaigning for Democrats in battleground states. Days leading up to the debate, Crist dismissed his campaign manager, who was arrested on a domestic violence charge.

Crist has held other positions in public service serving as state senator, commissioner of education and attorney general. He got engaged earlier this summer to Chelsea Grimes, a mother of six children from Minneapolis, the Tampa Bay Times reported. It is the third marriage for both.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., second from right, talks with a supporter outside of the United Teachers of Dade offices, May 31, 2022, in Miami Springs, Fla.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., second from right, talks with a supporter outside of the United Teachers of Dade offices, May 31, 2022, in Miami Springs, Fla.

If he wins, Crist will be Florida’s first Democratic governor in 28 years.

- Rachel Looker 

DeSantis well positioned for reelection as speculation swirls around a 2024 presidential run

DeSantis boasts a much higher national profile compared to Crist, as many speculate he is mounting a 2024 presidential bid.

The Florida governor has made a name for himself as a leader in the conservative movement, waging numerous culture wars and making national headlines. DeSantis has signed bills that banned the alleged teaching of critical race theory in schools and restricted discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.

His decision to fly 48 Venezuelan migrants to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts in September drew both national condemnation from immigrant activists and progressives and praise from conservatives who want to clamp down on crossings at the southern border.

Analysts say he's well positioned to win reelection thanks to his conservative stardom, and he’s received bipartisan support for his response to Hurricane Ian, including from President Biden.

- Ken Tran

DeSantis triggers Donald Trump's ire with Colorado endorsement

DeSantis warmed up for tonight's debate with Crist by drawing the ire of a potential 2024 White House opponent: Donald Trump.

The Florida governor taped a robocall endorsement for Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Joe O'Dea, who just happens to be one of the Republican Party's most outspoken critics of Trump.

The former president, who previously attacked O'Dea, responded on the Truth Social website by posting a news story about DeSantis' endorsement and adding a brief comment in all caps: "A BIG MISTAKE!"

A voter gets a sticker after delivering her vote-by-mail ballot to a drop off box on the first day of early voting at the Supervisor of Elections Main Office in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
A voter gets a sticker after delivering her vote-by-mail ballot to a drop off box on the first day of early voting at the Supervisor of Elections Main Office in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

Asked about Trump's blowback, the DeSantis campaign responded with a news story about how the governor has endorsed a variety of Republican candidates during the midterm elections.

DeSantis' possible presidential ambitions for 2024 will likely surface in tonight's gubernatorial debate.

– David Jackson

'A spineless, wannabe dictator:' Look for Crist to aggressively go after DeSantis

Expect an aggressive Crist in tonight's debate – perhaps his last chance to make a dent in an uphill race against the incumbent Republican DeSantis.

Statewide polls over the past month give DeSantis leads of at least 10 percentage points over Democrat Crist, the former governor and current member of Congress.

Crist has signaled his strategy in a series of tweets over the weekend.

Supporters of Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist march past a supporter of Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, as they arrive at the Sunrise Theatre ahead of a debate between DeSantis and Crist, in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
Supporters of Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist march past a supporter of Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, as they arrive at the Sunrise Theatre ahead of a debate between DeSantis and Crist, in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

Said one: "In case you haven’t heard: Ron DeSantis is a spineless, wannabe dictator who is going to lose" on Election Day.

– David Jackson

Crist expected to bring up controversial flights to Martha's Vineyard

As Monday night’s debate will be the only televised debate in this race, Crist is expected to go on a full offensive against DeSantis as Florida voters tune in.

He’s likely to bring up DeSantis’ controversial state-funded program that flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, an affluent island in Massachusetts. Crist has already blasted DeSantis for the move, calling the flights “inhumane.”

The move was a message to the White House to draw attention to the migrant crisis at the southern border. But the flights might not have been as politically advantageous as DeSantis anticipated.

Related: Could Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' migrant tactic backfire politically with key voting bloc?

The Treasury Department is currently investigating whether DeSantis’ office misused money intended for COVID-19 relief to charter the flights. In September, a country sheriff in San Antonio, Texas, where the flights departed from, also opened a criminal investigation into the matter.

- Ken Tran

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida governor debate: Desantis, Crist go head-to-head on key issues