Charlie Crist, Ron DeSantis face off in heated, raucous Florida governor debate

Only debate ahead of November election

Dodged questions, heated attacks and a raucous crowd colored the only debate Monday evening between Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Rep. Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial election.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dodged questions, heated attacks and a raucous crowd colored the only debate Monday evening between Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Rep. Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial election.

The Republican incumbent and the Democratic challenger debated at the Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce. WPEC moderated the debate. This was the only debate DeSantis would agree to, and it was rescheduled because of Hurricane Ian.

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Crist took every opportunity he could to play up DeSantis’ support for a 15-week abortion ban and tried to get DeSantis to admit that he would expand abortion restrictions if re-elected. Several times he called DeSantis a bully for name-calling or attacking others.

DeSantis took every opportunity to tie Crist to President Joe Biden and his policies in an effort to blame Biden for economic troubles, and called Crist a flip-flopper on abortion and crime while defending his own record.

Both candidates were cheered on by a loud audience that cheered and jeered even when they were told not to, leading to police removing spectators.

DeSantis is a popular, if divisive governor. He barely won his election to office in 2018, but he is now considered by many as a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, alongside former President Donald Trump, who endorsed his first run for governor.

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Crist has been governor before, from 2007 to 2011, as a Republican. He left the party and became a Democrat, and was a congressman for St. Petersburg up until recently when he resigned to focus on his campaign.

Both candidates attacked each other on their records on issues like property insurance, crime, COVID-19 and education. Neither offered many new solutions in answering debate questions.

In discussing rising costs in Florida, Crist accused DeSantis of ignoring those issues in favor of national profile-building with culture war issues like teaching gender identity or race issues and history in schools. DeSantis defended his policies on both issues.

“You have people that are teaching the U.S. was built on stolen land,” DeSantis said. “That is inappropriate for our schools, it’s not true, and I’m happy that we’re going to be able to have accurate history.”

“We shouldn’t have a whitewashed approach to educating our children,” Crist countered.

One of the biggest moments of the night came when Crist asked DeSantis to agree to serve out a full four-year term if re-elected, a reference to the constant rumors that DeSantis plans to run for president in 2024.

DeSantis was silent for a few moments before he finally said, “The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture right now is Charlie Crist.”

He never directly answered the question.

Flush with cash and a strong Republican base, DeSantis is leading Crist by 8 to 11 points, depending on the poll, according to Real Clear Politics. A stunning performance from Crist would be needed if he hopes to turn the campaign around.

DeSantis and Crist are not the only candidates for governor. There is a Libertarian candidate, Hector Roos, and a no-party-affiliate candidate, Carmen Giménez. They were permitted to participate in the debate.

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Vote-by-mail ballots are already returning to county supervisors of elections and early voting began Monday in several Florida counties.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, Democrats hold a slight edge over Republicans and No Party Affiliation voters in vote-by-mail.


About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.