TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Five days before the Democratic gubernatorial primary, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., will tell you he’s the best bet to oust Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.
Crist is a former governor himself and said he had the support, the strategy and the experience to make it happen. But during the election campaign, some of his past positions continue to harass him before next Tuesday.
Earlier this week, the Crist campaign gave Capital reporter Forrest Saunders about 20 minutes to chat with the candidate about everything from his abortion record, his political goals and his plan to take over the governor’s office – a strategy Floridians have seen before.
So how can a former Republican, who hasn’t been elected statewide since 2006, unite Democrats and beat a popular GOP incumbent?
“Just tell people what’s on my mind,” Crist said.
Crist said, simply put, that he fights DeSantis’ divisive language and “culture wars” with a sense of civility. That’s why he wears yellow bracelets with the inscription “The Golden Rule”.
“Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself,” Crist said. “If Governor DeSantis ever knew the golden rule, he clearly forgot it because he does it to others.”
If the tactic sounds familiar, it is. President Joe Biden used a similar strategy to defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020. His message of unity was aimed at moderate Republicans and sickly divisive independents.
But there’s only one problem – Biden lost Florida by more than 3 points.
“Well, 2020 was a different time,” Crist said. “We were at the height of the pandemic. We really couldn’t have a ground game, get out the vote. We have an opportunity to do that now, thank goodness this thing is really kind of behind us…and I love it Joe Biden. I think he’s a great man and I think he’s a great president. But Joe’s not from Florida.”
That may be the case, but Crist’s main opponent, Nikki Fried, is from Florida. She’s now the state’s commissioner of agriculture and has trailed in funding, endorsements and most polls. Still, Fried continues to throw jabs at Crist’s past, suggesting Democrats can’t trust Crist, especially on abortion.
Its online and television advertisements reflect this strategy. One, in particular, features a music video of Crist repeatedly saying he’s “pro-life.”
“Do you still consider yourself pro-life? Saunders asked.
“I am for life, am I not?” Christ answered. “We all are. I’ve been pro-choice in every decision I’ve made that affects a woman’s right to choose.”
Crist touts anti-abortion bills during his time in state government. He’s also proud of his 100% Congressional rating from groups like Planned Parenthood. The congressman said he wants to sign an executive order from day one to protect abortion in Florida and believes his record is “clear”, despite calling himself “pro-life”.
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“For most people, that means you support anti-abortion measures,” Saunders said. “That’s what most people would say.”
“I’m not most people,” Crist said.
“Okay, so how would you define it?” Saunders asked.
“Well, I am who I am and I define it how I define it,” Crist said. “I’m for life. I hope we’re all for life. Maybe Vladimir Putin isn’t for life, but I think most people – most human beings – are. “
Beyond abortion, Crist has several big goals — to raise teacher salaries across the board, repeal new laws regulating race and LGBTQ+ education, cut housing and property insurance costs. . There is something else too.
“I think we should legalize recreational marijuana statewide,” Crist said. “And expunge the records of those who had small amounts of possession so that their records are clear and do the right thing in our criminal justice system.”
Many of these goals might be difficult to achieve. Even if Crist enters the governor’s mansion, he will likely still face a GOP-controlled legislature.
In his words, he is David fighting Goliath. But, Crist noted, “David won.”
“I don’t think it’s an election, frankly, it’s right versus left,” Crist said. “It’s about good versus evil. I know it is. I know that’s what frustrates people in Florida with this governor right now. I know they deserve better.”
Like the Fried campaign, Crist will spend the remaining days of the race touring the state. He is also looking to the future, predicting a $20 million general election media blitz if he wins the primary next Tuesday.