It’s Day 2 of Charlie Crist’s campaign for Governor and there are 552 days until Election Day 2022. It’s already clear there is no way anyone running for office or covering the candidates will be able to keep pace with Crist’s knock-out Day 1.
It wasn’t much of a secret that Crist would announce his gubernatorial bid. Anytime a high-profile politician says he’s making a big announcement after weeks of speculation that he would jump into a race, it’s pretty clear that’s what the announcement is going to be. But nevertheless, Crist went immediately to work.
He launched a campaign video first thing in the morning, ahead of an all-the-bells-and-whistles campaign launch rally. Crist will no doubt face a tough primary, whether from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried or U.S. Rep. Val Demings, or both, but he knew his audience and knew they weren’t interest on Dem on Dem violence. They are out for DeSantis and Crist immediately laid the foundation to A) be the candidate to get rid of him, and B) bloody DeSantis’ name right out of the gate.
“The deck is stacked against the middle class, aided and abetted by Governor Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in Tallahassee,” Crist said in his first reference to the incumbent Governor just a couple of minutes into his kickoff speech.
“This is a Governor who doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and doesn’t think about you — unless you can write a campaign check.”
Crist went on to pillory DeSantis for seeing Florida’s “wonderful diversity as a threat, not a strength we all celebrate” and for ignoring scientists and doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead heeding the advice of “quacks and conspiracy theorists.”
He blasted the Republican Governor for waging “a constant assault on Democracy,” noting that “if you want to vote, he won’t help you.”
“If you’re working, he won’t support you. If you’re a woman, he won’t empower you. If you’re an immigrant, he won’t accept you. If you’re facing discrimination, he won’t respect her,” Crist went on.
And perhaps the most timely kicker, “if you’re sick, he won’t care for you.”
That’s a launch with teeth.
In fact, Tuesday was one of Crist’s best campaign launches, and considering how many launches Crist has had, that’s saying something.
The launch harkened back to the salad days when Crist’s operation was overseen by the Jim Rimeses and Michelle Todds of the political world.
Except now Crist is staffed by a mosaic of young Democratic staffers, many of them People of Color. It’s almost overlooked how Crist, with his nonstop campaigning and prodigious fundraising, has become an employment mainstay for many Democratic staffers over the past decade.
He’s so well-staffed, I’d almost say Crist’s launch was over-professionalized. There were almost too many people with fancy badges and the police really didn’t need to block off the streets five blocks in every direction. The event boasted its own AV team, providing much relief to the gaggle of reporters from across the state scrambling for audio, both before and after Crist’s main event.
A Republican political consultant who worked for DeSantis was almost giddy about yesterday. It wasn’t Crist’s campaign launch at Deuces Live in South St. Pete that offered delight, rather the political mudslinging that immediately ensued.
“I loved it,” the consultant said. “The back and forth between Crist in St. Pete and DeSantis at every stop was two heavyweight fighters punching at each other.”
“Let’s be honest: DeSantis has punched back harder at Crist over the last 48 hours than anything he’s thrown Fried’s way in the last two years.”
Indeed, DeSantis has largely dismissed Fried’s frequent daggers. She never misses an opportunity to ding DeSantis on everything from his COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout to priority legislation shoved down Democrats’ throats this Legislative Session. Yet DeSantis has responded to her with little more than an eye roll.
“DeSantis seems to like Charlie about as much as he does Rebekah Jones,” another consultant noted, referencing the fired data scientist who claimed she was fired for refusing to fudge COVID-19 data.
Rather than sticking to the safe playbook of ignoring Crist, DeSantis took every opportunity to light Crist up.
Asked about Crist’s announcement Tuesday, DeSantis used language comparing the former Republican Governor to a snake.
“Any time there’s an open office somewhere, you can bet someone like a Crist is probably going to be slithering around for it,” DeSantis said.
He took aim at Crist’s party-flopping, too.
“Which party is he going to run under? Do we know for sure?
And DeSantis reached for substance right out of the gate, defending his anti-lockdown approach to the pandemic, which Crist blasted in his own campaign launch remarks.
“I implore them — from my political interest — run on closing schools, run on locking people down, run on closing businesses,” DeSantis said. “I would love to have that debate, because I can tell you this, we have saved people’s livelihoods.”
His Day 1 attacks are, dare I say, Trumpian, street fighting by DeSantis, whose most cutting remarks are usually reserved for his appearances on Fox News.
It’s clear DeSantis detests Crist.
And to be honest, I haven’t figured out the strategy.
Is DeSantis elevating Crist because he really doesn’t want to face Fried or Demings in a General Election?
Or does he see Crist as a genuine threat were Crist to make the General Election?
Or there’s a third possibility — perhaps DeSantis is taking a page from Trump’s playbook, which worked wonders to rile up a base and turn out voters.
Meanwhile, though, Fried was classy. She subtly dinged her fellow Democrat, noting that Crist should probably stick to Congress, adding a back-handed compliment that it’s a district probably only Charlie Crist can hold onto for Democrats.
Demings, on Tuesday, dropped her own hype video that stopped just short of her own campaign announcement.
The bottom line is, this thing is going to get real juicy, real fast.
Now in Day 2 of Crist-run, he’s doing his own playbook chucking, heading not to blue Broward or Miami-Dade, but to the Panhandle. Democratic primaries are won in the former, but General Elections are lost in the latter. That’s a revelation Crist took away from his last gubernatorial bid, in 2014 against former Gov. Rick Scott.
Crist, correctly so, blamed Scott’s self-funded war chest on his defeat. But he also correctly noted one short-sighted strategy.
“Also, I didn’t spend enough time in North Florida. I ceded it to Gov. Scott. That won’t happen again,” Crist told Florida Politics columnist Joe Henderson.
The question now becomes whether Crist can sustain his first round intensity. I’m not sure he can. And I’m not sure he can raise the funds to afford it.
If Fried or Demings — or worse for Crist, both — jump into the race, it will split a limited number of financial resources on a highly competitive Democratic Primary. All the while DeSantis will be able to rake in the cash. The easiest job in Tallahassee is Heather Barker‘s (she’s the chief fundraiser for DeSantis.)
But until one of those strong Democratic women jump into the race, it will be exciting to sit back and watch the two boys duke it out.