Charlie Crist Challenges DeSantis in Florida Governor’s Race

Mr. Crist is the first challenger to Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and leading contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2024.,

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Charlie Crist, a Florida Democrat, will run against DeSantis for governor.

Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat of Florida, greeting supporters in St. Petersburg, Fla., in November.
Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat of Florida, greeting supporters in St. Petersburg, Fla., in November.Credit…Peter Foley/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • May 4, 2021, 9:21 a.m. ET

MIAMI — Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat of Florida, entered the race for governor on Tuesday, becoming the first challenger to Ron DeSantis, a Republican who raised his profile during the pandemic and is now one of the best-known governors in the country and a leading contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2024.

“Every step of the way, this governor has been more focused on his personal political fortune than the struggle of everyday Floridians,” Mr. Crist said under the blazing sun in St. Petersburg. “That’s just not right. Just like our former president, he always takes credit but never takes responsibility.”

Earlier, in a video posted on Twitter, Mr. Crist said: “Today, Florida has a governor that’s only focused on his future, not yours.”

Mr. Crist has a long political history in Florida and is widely known throughout the state. He served as governor as a Republican from 2007 to 2011 before running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent, losing to Marco Rubio. After switching parties, he later lost a Democratic bid for governor in 2014 against the incumbent, Rick Scott.

But Mr. Crist’s experience is unlikely to deter other Democratic candidates. His clout has been diminished by years of electoral failures and by a party that is increasingly open to a wider range of more diverse public figures to be its standard bearers. Two women, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Representative Val Demings of Orlando, are considering their own Democratic runs for the governor’s mansion.

Indeed, the field could soon get quite crowded. Ms. Fried scheduled a news conference in the State Capitol for the same time as Mr. Crist’s announcement. “As the only statewide elected Democrat, it makes absolute sense for me to be running for governor,” she said, but added that she would not make an announcement on Tuesday.

Ms. Demings released a video of her own on Tuesday that, while not declaring a candidacy, highlighted her career as Orlando police chief, impeachment manager in Congress and a shortlisted vice-presidential pick for President Biden.

Similar jockeying — though not quite as intense — is underway among Democrats looking to go up against Mr. Rubio, who also faces re-election next year.

When reporters in Tallahassee, the state capital, asked Mr. DeSantis about Mr. Crist’s announcement on Tuesday, the governor mocked Mr. Crist’s party-switching.

“Which party is he going to run under, do we know for sure?” he said.

“I implore them, from my political interest: Run on closing schools,” Mr. DeSantis said on Tuesday about Democrats. “Run on locking people down. Run on closing businesses.” He added: “I would love to have that debate.”

In advance of Mr. Crist’s announcement, Mr. DeSantis held an official event on Monday at Mr. Crist’s favorite seafood restaurant in St. Petersburg, touting the wins he racked up during the annual legislative session that concluded last week — a session that he and Republicans in control of the Legislature used to champion policies that will appeal to Florida’s increasingly conservative electorate.

Republican lawmakers approved restrictions on mail voting, penalties on social media companies that remove users for troubling posts, anti-protest policies, a ban on transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports, and a ban on “vaccine passports” — all fodder for Mr. DeSantis to deploy in a re-election campaign.

On Monday, Mr. DeSantis signed a bill and an executive order doing away with most of Florida’s remaining pandemic restrictions, contrasting his administration’s aversion for mandates to the restrictions in states led by Democrats.

Mr. Crist was withering in his criticism of the governor on Tuesday.

“Gov. DeSantis’s vision of Florida is clear: If you want to vote, he won’t help you,” Mr. Crist said. “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.”

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