More than a decade after walking away from the governor’s office, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist launched a campaign Tuesday to try to unseat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022.
Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, was the first major candidate to formally enter the 2022 gubernatorial race. But DeSantis’ political committee has been piling up cash in anticipation of a re-election campaign, and Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando are widely expected to run.
Crist, 64, made the announcement during a sun-splashed event in St. Petersburg. The podium displayed the campaign theme: “Florida For All.”
“This won’t be an easy fight, but nothing in life worth fighting for is easy,” Crist said. “I am announcing today that I am running for governor of Florida, for a Florida for all.”
Crist listed priorities that are Democratic staples, including making it easier to vote, expanding Medicaid eligibility and treating climate change like the “existential threat it is.” He also bashed Republican lawmakers and DeSantis, describing their agenda as “shameful.”
“The deck is stacked against the middle class, aided and abetted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in Tallahassee,” Crist said. “This is a governor who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t care and doesn’t think about you.”
The announcement echoed themes from Crist’s past campaigns, down to his recounting of how his grandfather arrived in the United States from Cyprus and how his family had succeeded.
It was the latest move in a three-decade political career that has seen him get elected statewide three times as a Republican, run an ill-fated campaign for the U.S. Senate as an independent, become a Democrat, lose a 2014 bid for governor and get elected to Congress.
Through most of that career, Crist has offered an upbeat persona and relished in retail politics. But critics also have pointed to his party switching and history of runs for different offices, portraying him as a political opportunist.
“I just wonder which party is he going to run under? Do we know for sure? I thought about it, because you know, he’s run as a Republican and lost, independent and lost, Democrat and lost,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “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?”
Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, indicated she would rather see Crist run for re-election to his congressional seat in a swing area.
“Certainly, I have had communications with Congressman Crist. It is a time when we need his voice and his vote up in Washington D.C.,” Fried said. “His seat is one that only probably Charlie Crist can hold on to. So, I’d really like to have encouraged him to stay in Congress. But, certainly today is Charlie’s day and I wish him the best of luck.”
Crist, who walked onto the stage wearing a mask, criticized DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, asking how “many lives would have been saved” if the Republican had listened to experts and taken more precautions. The criticism came a day after DeSantis suspended all local-government coronavirus emergency orders related to the pandemic.
But DeSantis indicated he is ready to fight with Crist and other Democrats about the issue.
“I implore them, from my political interests, to run on closing schools, run on locking people down, run on closing businesses,” DeSantis said. “I would love to have that debate. I can tell you this: We have saved people’s livelihoods. You know what, when you have kids in schools, when you have people working and you have people’s businesses surviving, you are saving lives too.”
Crist easily won a 2006 race for governor after getting elected in 2002 and 2000 as attorney general and education commissioner, which subsequently became an appointed post.
But Crist did not run for a second term as governor in 2010, instead leaving the Republican Party and launching an independent bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Crist lost the race to Republican Marco Rubio and was sidelined politically.
Crist became the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014 but lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott. He then won a Pinellas County congressional seat in 2016.
State Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, helped introduce Crist on Tuesday, saying Floridians have a chance to elect somebody with “compassion” who focuses on issues that are important to them.
“Charlie’s a listener, he’s a doer and he has humility,” Diamond said.