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Politics

Charlie Crist To Run Against DeSantis In Florida Governor's Race

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We begin this hour in Florida, where it is already a busy week. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has removed all coronavirus restrictions, which has angered some local governments in the state. Meanwhile, the 2022 midterm elections got started in a big way today, and the race for governor kicked off with a familiar face.

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CHARLIE CRIST: I'm announcing today that I'm running for governor of Florida for a Florida for all.

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CHANG: Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist is making a bid for a seat he held before as a Republican. He served one term as governor but then decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Crist lost that race but is now trying to unseat DeSantis in next year's election. Joining us now to discuss all of this is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami.

Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So, I mean, Charlie Crist has been kind of this fixture in Florida politics for something like 30 years, right? Why is he running for a job he held before but then gave up?

ALLEN: Well, you know, I think if - Charlie Crist says it's because he's a public servant. And basically, he doesn't like the way that Ron DeSantis is governing the state. Crist talked today about laws DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature passed when he announced his bid for governor. Republicans have restricted mail voting. They've imposed a tough law dealing with protests. They've also adopted a controversial measure banning transgender athletes from competing on women's teams. Crist is also critical of the way DeSantis responded to COVID.

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CRIST: He's failed to lead during the greatest health and economic crisis of our lifetime. Local officials were forced to fend for themselves without direction from our state. Scientists and doctors offered advice, but he listened to quacks and conspiracy theorists.

ALLEN: You know, after leaving the governor's mansion, Charlie Crist was dealt a severe setback politically when he ran for the Senate in 2010. He lost the Republican primary to Marco Rubio and then ran in the general election as an independent. Again, he lost that race and then in 2014 came back and ran for governor as a Democrat. And that one, again, he lost.

CHANG: Right. I mean, I guess Crist can't get enough of campaigning. But do you think he can actually win the Democratic nomination for governor this time around?

ALLEN: I think that it looks like he's going to have strong competition this year. Among the names we hear is Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings, who looks like she may be entering the race. She gained national attention, of course, during President Trump's first impeachment trial and was even discussed as a possible running mate for Joe Biden. As Crist was getting ready to announce today, she posted this campaign video on social media.

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VAL DEMINGS: Success is not only about being prepared. It's about opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Val Demings.

ALLEN: But, you know, she hasn't entered the race yet. But we'll see. Florida's agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried is also expected to run. She said today she thought Charlie Crist could serve the party better by trying to hold on to a seat that he has in Congress.

CHANG: But it's not easy to unseat an incumbent governor. So is DeSantis vulnerable right now? What do you say?

ALLEN: It doesn't appear so. It's hard to say. But, you know, the latest approval ratings we've seen put him above 50%. He talks a lot about COVID. He has been for, of course, the year, and that's natural. But for months, his appearances around the state - he's been on TV, local TV stations distributing vaccine, and that's had him constantly in front of people.

But at the same time, although he's getting all this attention, he's a polarizing figure. You know, he opposes COVID lockdowns and mandatory face mask rules. The action that he took yesterday canceling all COVID-related restrictions that were in place for cities and counties - that was done with no advanced notice. It really was a kind of classic DeSantis move. Asked about his COVID record today, he said that he welcomes it if his opponents want to use it as a campaign issue.

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RON DESANTIS: I implore them, from my political interests, run on closing schools. Run on locking people down. Run on closing businesses and ruining. I would love to have that debate.

CHANG: Well, DeSantis is also widely mentioned as a likely presidential candidate in 2024. How might that affect his run for governor, you think?

ALLEN: Well, he says he's focused right now just on running Florida. And, you know, he hasn't even officially announced his reelection bid for governor yet, although we expect that soon. But he's become a regular guest on Fox News. He was on twice last week. He talks about things like his COVID response. He also does these attacks on what he calls corporate media, Big Tech and the Biden administration. One poll in March showed him as the front-runner in the 2024 presidential race if President Trump - former President Trump doesn't run. Democrats will try to make that an issue in the race, but they clearly have a challenge. The last Democrat who was elected governor here in Florida was Lawton Chiles. That was in 1994.

CHANG: Whoa. All right, that is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami.

Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.