MIAMI – Florida Democrat Representative Charlie Crist took part in the race for governor on Tuesday and became the first challenger to Ron DeSantis, a Republican who put his profile on the map by avoiding lockdowns during the pandemic and is now a major contender for his party's presidential nomination in 2024.
"Every step of the way, this governor is more focused on his personal political fortune than on the struggles of everyday Floridians," Mr. Crist said under the scorching sun in St. Petersburg as he made his announcement. "That's just not right. Like our former president, he always takes credit but never takes responsibility."
His candidacy marked the start of a long, costly and most likely bruise campaign in a battlefield state that has been swinging away from the Democrats since 2016. Florida's exceptionally tight governor games have been decided by about one percentage point since 2010, always in favor of Republicans. . The last Democrat to win elections to the governor's mansion was Lawton Chiles, who won a second term in 1994.
Mr. Crist's advisers see him as the Democrat with the most experience running the state and appealing to a coalition of liberal and moderate voters the way President Biden did nationally – but not in Florida, that former President Donald J. Trump won by three percent. points.
Mr. Crist has an extensive 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 to the United States Senate as an independent, losing to Marco Rubio. After switching sides, he later lost a Democratic bid for governor against incumbent Republican, Rick Scott in 2014.
The arc of its political evolution was clear in the video he used Tuesday to announce his candidacy. It featured footage of the hug 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 stop other Democratic candidates from competing in the race. Its influence has been diminished by years of failed elections and by a party that is increasingly open to a wider range of more diverse public figures to be its flag bearers. Two women, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Representative Val Demings of Orlando, consider their own run for the governor's mansion as Democrats.
Mrs. Fried had scheduled a press conference at the State Capitol at the same time as Mr. Crist's announcement. "As the only statewide elected Democrat, it makes perfect sense for me to run for governor," she said, adding that she was not making an announcement at the time.
Mrs. Demings released a video 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 Mr. Biden.
A similar jockeying – although not quite as intense – is underway among Democrats taking on Mr. Rubio, who will also be reelected next year.
When asked about Mr Crist's announcement on Tuesday, Mr DeSantis mocked Mr Crist's party change. "Which party will he fall under, are we sure?" he said.
Referring to Democrats in general, he said, “I implore them, out of my political interest, to keep closing schools. Run by locking people up. Run on closing businesses. He added, "I'd like to have that debate."
Prior to Mr. Crist's announcement, Mr. DeSantis held an official event at Mr. Crist's favorite seafood restaurant in St. Petersburg on Monday, praising the victories he had achieved during the session that the Republican-controlled legislature last week – he and Republican lawmakers were in favor of policies that will appeal to Florida's increasingly conservative electorate.
And on Monday, Mr. DeSantis signed a bill and executive order to lift most of the remaining pandemic restrictions in Florida, in opposition to his government's aversion to mandates with the restrictions in states led by Democrats.
Still, Mr Crist was shrinking in his criticism of the governor on Tuesday.
& # 39; Gov. DeSantis & # 39; vision of Florida is clear: if you want to vote, he won't help you, & # 39; said Mr. Crist. If you are working he will not support you. If you are a woman he will not empower you. If you are an immigrant he will not accept you. If you face discrimination, he will not accept you. disrespect. If you're sick, he won't take care of you. "