MIAMI – Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat from Florida, entered the gubernatorial race on Tuesday, becoming the first challenger to Ron DeSantis, a Republican who improved his profile by avoiding lockdowns during the pandemic and is now one of the main candidates for the presidential nomination of his party in 2024.
“Every step of the way, this governor has focused more on his personal political fortunes than on the struggle of everyday Floridians,” said Crist under the blazing sun in St. Petersburg as he made the announcement. “It’s just not fair. Much like our former president, he always takes the credit but never takes responsibility.
His candidacy marked the start of a long, costly and most likely deadly campaign in a battlefield state that has been moving away from Democrats since 2016. The Florida governor’s unusually tight races were decided at around a percentage point since 2010, always in favor of the Republicans. . The last Democrat to win the governor’s mansion election was Lawton Chiles, who won a second term in 1994.
Mr Crist’s advisers see him as the Democrat with the most experience in the statewide race and appealing to a coalition of liberal and moderate voters in the same way that President Biden did. did nationally – but not in Florida, which former President Donald J. Trump won by three percent. points.
Mr. Crist has a long political history in Florida and is widely known throughout the state. He served as a Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 before running unsuccessfully for the US Senate as an Independent, losing to Marco Rubio. After changing parties, he then lost a Democratic nomination for governor in 2014 to incumbent Republican Rick Scott.
The arc of his political evolution was evident in the video he used Tuesday to announce his candidacy. It featured footage of the embrace with former President Barack Obama that led to Mr Crist’s departure from the Republican Party 11 years ago.
But Mr Crist’s experience is unlikely to deter other Democratic candidates from joining the race. Its influence 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 Rep. Val Demings from Orlando, are considering their own candidacy for the governor’s mansion as Democrats.
Ms. Fried scheduled a press conference at the State Capitol at the same time as Mr. Crist’s announcement. “As the only Democrat elected in the entire state, it makes absolute sense for me to run for governor,” she said, but added that she was not making an announcement at the time- the.
Mrs Demings posted a video On Tuesday, that, without declaring a candidacy, highlighted his career as the Orlando Police Chief, charge of impeachment in Congress and selection of the preselected vice-president for Mr Biden.
A similar jockey – though not as intense – is underway among Democrats looking to take on Mr Rubio, who is also due for re-election next year.
Asked about Mr Crist’s announcement on Tuesday, Mr DeSantis scoffed at Mr Crist’s change of party. “Which party is he going to run for, do we know for sure?” he said.
Referring to Democrats in general, he said: “I implore them, out of my political interest: run on school closures. Run while locking people up. Run business shutdowns. He added: “I would love to have this debate.”
Ahead of Mr Crist’s announcement, Mr DeSantis hosted an official event on Monday at Mr Crist’s favorite seafood restaurant in St. Petersburg, touting the victories he had racked up during the legislature session. under Republican control which concluded last week – that he and Republican lawmakers used to champion policies that will appeal to the increasingly conservative Florida electorate.
And on Monday, Mr DeSantis signed a bill and executive order removing most of the remaining pandemic restrictions in Florida, pitting his administration’s aversion to terms of office against restrictions in Democratic-led states.
Still, Mr Crist was fading in his criticism of the governor on Tuesday.
“Gov. Florida’s DeSantis vision is clear: if you want to vote, it won’t help you, ”Crist said. “If you work, he won’t support you. If you are a woman, it will not empower you. If you are an immigrant, he will not accept you. If you are discriminated against, he will not respect you. If you are sick, he will not take care of you.