Crist launches campaign for governor; slams DeSantis on COVID response

Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.
Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.(Provided)
Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 1:05 PM EDT
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WWSB) - U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist kicked off his 2022 campaign for governor at a rally in his hometown of St. Petersburg, laying out a progressive agenda and criticizing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID pandemic.

“He failed to lead during the greatest health and economic crisis of our life,” Crist said. “Local officials were forced to fend for themselves, without direction from our state. Scientists and doctors offered advice, but he listened to quacks and conspiracies.

“Governor DeSantis’ vision of Florida is clear. 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 will not empower you. If you’re an immigrant, he won’t accept you. And if you’re facing discrimination, he wont respect you. If you’re sick, he won’t care for you. If you’re impacted by climate change -- and we all are -- he won’t even believe you.”

Crist made his announcement public on Twitter Tuesday morning, about two hours ahead of the rally in downtown St. Petersburg.

“Florida should be a place where hard work is rewarded, justice is equal, and opportunity is right in front of you. That’s a Florida for all — and that’s why I’m running for Governor,” the tweet said, accompanied by a campaign video.

Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, was the first major candidate to formally enter the 2022 gubernatorial race. But DeSantis’ political committee has been piling up cash in anticipation of a re-election campaign, and Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando are widely expected to run.

Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, indicated she would rather see Crist run for re-election to his congressional seat in a swing area.

“Certainly, I have had communications with Congressman Crist. It is a time when we need his voice and his vote up in Washington D.C.,” Fried said. “His seat is one that only probably Charlie Crist can hold on to. So, I’d really like to have encouraged him to stay in Congress. But, certainly today is Charlie’s day and I wish him the best of luck.”

At Tuesday’s rally, Crist vowed to reverse some of the legislation passed by the Legislature during its recent session and sighed by DeSantis. “I will protect civil rights and human rights. We won’t make it harder to vote. We’ll make it easier,” he said.

Crist promised to appoint a chief climate change officer for Florida to combat rising sea levels and promote renewable energy sources including wind and solar.

Crist also said he would invest, “in infrastructure and public transit, not toll roads to nowhere.” He also pledges support for higher education, small businesses and creating an economic environment friendly to working class families.

Charlie Crist was elected to Congress in 2017, representing the 13th District, which includes Pinellas County from Clearwater through St. Petersburg.

He was elected to the Florida State Senate as a Republican in 1992. In 2000, Crist served as Florida’s education commissioner. In 2002, he was elected Attorney General, before being elected governor in 2006.

After initially leading in the 2010 Senate race for the Republican nomination, the state GOP committee decided not to fund his reelection bid, and in April 2010 Crist left the Republican Party to run as an independent. In the general election he lost to Rubio in a three-way race to Marco Rubio.

In 2012, Crist joined the Democratic Party and ran for governor in 2014, losing to Rick Scott by a slim 1% margin. In 2016, Crist was elected to Congress from his home district, the 13th, and became the first Democrat to represent that district since 1955.

-- Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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