Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., announced Tuesday morning his intent to return to the governor’s mansion — his second attempt at the office since leaving it in 2011. He’s the first official challenger facing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Crist was the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011 before switching his party registration to Independent in 2010. He became a Democrat in 2012 and has been in Congress representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District since 2017.
“We’ll treat those that disagree with us today, as our allies of tomorrow, not our enemies,” Crist said at an event announcing his run Tuesday. “There’s too little decency and civility in Florida’s politics, frankly in America’s politics, and changing that starts with changing the attitude at the top. Unlike this governor and the Republican leadership in Tallahassee, we will listen to our fellow Floridians.”
“Governor DeSantis and the leaders of the Republican Party have simply lost touch with what regular Floridians need and truly care about,” he added.
His campaign video highlights his accomplishments as governor and in Congress, where he pointed to his vote to pass coronavirus relief legislation. But he also launched attacks against DeSantis, who has come under fire nationally for his handling of the coronavirus in Florida.
“I worked with President Biden to get more vaccines and more arms and funding for our schools, to get them open safe, but today Florida has a governor that’s only focused on his future, not yours,” Crist says.
“He doesn’t care, and unless you could write him a campaign check, you don’t exist. The truth is, no matter where you live in our state, if you’re a Democrat or Republican or an Independent, you deserve better than that,” he adds.
He’s not the only Democrat thinking about challenging DeSantis. Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida’s 10th District ambiguously tweeted out a campaign-style video of her own on Tuesday morning, hours before Crist was expected to launch his campaign. She has said publicly she is considering a run for statewide office — either for Senate or the governorship. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, the only Democrat currently holding statewide office in the Sunshine State, is also thought to be exploring a bid.
Crist has a long political history in the state. He served as a state senator for most of the 1990s, then moved on to a number of statewide offices, including attorney general and state education commissioner. He ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign as an independent against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010, before later launching a gubernatorial bid as a Democrat in 2014. He lost that race to the Republican incumbent and now-Sen. Rick Scott.
Scott, the current chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, attacked Crist over his track record, tweeting a link to a video paid for by a group called Let’s Get To Work that promotes conservatives and originally posted it Monday — preempting Crist’s announcement.
“Which governor took Florida to the bottom? Charlie Crist,” the narrator says. “What’s worse, he didn’t stay to fix the mess. He ran away. He tried to go to Washington instead. Charlie Crist: slick politician, lousy governor.”
Crist’s exit from the Republican Party was in part catalyzed by a hug n Florida between him and former President Barack Obama early in his presidency.
“I didn’t know it yet. But that high-spirited day in Fort Myers—meeting Obama (bad enough) and greeting him with a hug (even worse)—ended my viable life as a Republican politician. I would never have a future in my old party again. My bipartisan hopes and dreams, I would discover soon enough to my shock and disappointment, were vastly overstated and hopelessly out of date,” he wrote in an autobiography in 2014.