Shortly before the 2020 election, Charlie Crist was nearing the end of a Zoom meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. He wanted the Times’ endorsement in his congressional race.
Before they wrapped up, though, Times CEO Paul Tash jumped on with a couple of questions, one of which nearly knocked Crist for a loop.
“He asked me if I had considered running for Governor in 2022,” Crist told Florida Politics. “I was floored and said, no, I was focused on my election and hadn’t thought about it.”
Crist defeated Republican challenger Anna Paulina Luna by about six percentage points to represent CD 13 in Pinellas County. But the question about entering the Governor’s race didn’t go away.
“Friends started urging me to consider it,” Crist said. They said I had been Governor before and could do it again. We did a lot of good things. I started thinking about it, but then along came the insurgency at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and everything got put on hold.”
The hold is officially over. At a rally Tuesday morning in St. Petersburg, Crist formally announced his entry into the race for the Democratic nomination to face incumbent Ron DeSantis. The move, not surprising, means Crist won’t run for reelection to Congress.
He will run under the slogan “A Florida For All Floridians.” That’s a direct shot at DeSantis for recent bills he signed restricting voting and barring transgender girls from competing against other girls in high school and college sports.
“I’m doing this because Florida deserves better than what I’ve seen from this Governor,” he said. “You look at what he’s done with transgender children, not standing up for a woman’s right to choose, and what they’ve done to the schools. It almost seems authoritarian.
“I don’t know that we’ve had an administration like this. When you have an administration that makes it harder to vote like this one just did, that’s not a democracy.”
Crist is the first Democrat to officially enter the race, although Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried almost certainly will join soon. U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando might jump in as well.
“The one thing we know about politics is the people like new. And Val would be new,” attorney and Democratic donor John Morgan told Politico.
Even if Crist can win the nomination, DeSantis will be waiting in the General Election. He will have lots of money, along with the support of “He Who Shall Not Be Named” from Mar-a-Lago.
The interest in DeSantis as a possible presidential candidate in 2024 could work to the Democrats’ advantage, though. Will voters be turned off by a Governor who might skip out on them two years after being elected?
“That’s an extraordinarily important question,” Crist said. “If you’ve got your eye on the ball for 2024, do you really care about Florida? Florida is a great state, not a steppingstone.”
“And as much as the Governor loves to pound his chest about the job he has done on COVID-19, we have almost 36,000 people gone. Let’s not forget that. Facts are stubborn things.”
Here are other facts, though.
Crist was Governor once, as a Republican, then decided to run for the U.S. Senate instead of seeking a second term. Marco Rubio beat him for the nomination, though, and Crist then ran and lost as an independent.
In 2014, he tried to get his old job back, only that time as a Democrat. He narrowly lost that race to then-incumbent Rick Scott.
“Obviously, the money advantage in that race was extraordinary. As Democrats, we raised about $50 million. Gov. Scott raised about $100 million. Most of our internal polls had us ahead by 2 or 3 points, but then he was able to blitz TV with ads in the final couple of weeks, and that was that.
“Also, I didn’t spend enough time in North Florida. I ceded it to Gov. Scott. That won’t happen again.”
Crist, as always, remains affable and engaging. He is the friendly kind of person you might want as your neighbor.
But do you want him again as your Governor?
That’s the big question as Crist again tries to make the case that he is the right person for the job.
“I think experience matters. I’ll point to our new President, Joe Biden. After what we had the last four years in the White House, with the lack of experience that former President Trump had, people now see that experience matters,” he said.
“I’m more of a Joe Biden Democrat, really. He has led with stability, decency, and compassion across the board, appreciating those qualities that we missed for four years. Since the insurrection, tens of thousands of people have left the Republican Party. I have a neighbor, a longtime friend, who voted for Trump last year. But she told me, Charlie, I made a mistake. I’ll never vote for another Republican.”
Speaking of Biden, Crist joined about a dozen members of Congress who were either former mayors or governors at the White House last week. They met with the President to discuss his infrastructure proposal.
“We talked about the Everglades restoration and renewable energy for Florida, which is really important,” Crist said. “And, who knows? Maybe we can get a bullet train for Florida, too. We had one before Rick Scott turned it down. If I’m Governor, I won’t turn it down. Count on it.”