Florida poll: DeSantis falls behind Crist as COVID-19 cases surge

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats inch closer to legislative deal Democrats face growing hurdles in bid to oust DeSantis DeSantis eyes ,000 bonus for unvaccinated police to relocate to Florida MORE (R) has slipped behind a Democratic gubernatorial rival in a new poll as he faces scrutiny over his handling of the pandemic amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Sunshine State. 

The survey, conducted by Florida-based firm St. Pete Polls, found that 45 percent of voters said they would vote for Democratic Rep. Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristRep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general Democrats face growing hurdles in bid to oust DeSantis Democrats scramble to reach deal on taxes MORE (Fla.), who previously served as governor from 2007 to 2011, while 44 percent said they would back DeSantis.

St. Pete Polls noted that Crist’s lead was within the survey’s margin of error of 1.6 percentage points. 

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About 11 percent of the more than 3,900 respondents in the poll, conducted from Monday to Tuesday, said they were still undecided about their choice for governor heading into the 2022 contest.

A previous St. Pete Polls survey released in May revealed that just 30 percent of voters believed Crist had better than even odds of unseating the Republican, with 38 percent giving him a 50-50 chance of winning.

Voters in the May poll expressed greater optimism that fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried, the state’s current agriculture commissioner, would be able to beat DeSantis in 2022.

DeSantis, a staunch ally of former President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE, is also considered a favorite by many for a potential 2024 White House bid.

The poll comes as Florida has emerged as the new epicenter of the coronavirus surge across the country, fueled in part by the highly transmissible delta variant. 

While DeSantis has attracted support from fellow conservatives for his hands-off approach to the pandemic, including resisting calls for new mask mandates and lockdowns, his actions amid worsening case and hospitalization numbers have fueled more fervent criticism from his opponents. 

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Crist last week accused DeSantis of neglecting his duties amid the pandemic, arguing, “We don’t have leadership.”

The congressman argued that DeSantis has focused on responses to the migration surge at the Texas border rather than the worsening COVID-19 figures in his own state. 

"What’s he [DeSantis] doing about it? He’s going to Texas. He goes to the border. Texas. You’re the governor of Florida, you know," Crist said. "He doesn’t understand. And you know he’s spending our tax dollars out there, giving our law enforcement to Texas while people are dying in Florida. Unbelievable."

On Tuesday, Crist called on DeSantis to require state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying, “The way to stamp out the virus, and protect our public health, economy and our jobs, is to get everyone vaccinated.”

Florida now accounts for about 1 in 5 new coronavirus cases nationally and on Tuesday broke its record for coronavirus hospitalizations for the third straight day, with 11,515 recorded.