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Crist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) is running for Florida governor once again.

Crist made the announcement on Tuesday shortly before he was set to appear at a formal campaign launch event in St. Petersburg, Fla. It is his third run for the governor’s mansion since 2006 and his seventh bid for statewide office in a political career that has spanned more than three decades.

“We can build a Florida for all Floridians. We can create a society that values every person. We can break the fever of division and hatred that has afflicted our politics,” Crist said in announcing his candidacy.

Crist is the first Democrat to formally jump into the race to challenge Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a steadfast ally of former President Trump who has emerged as a superstar on the right and a villain to the left.

But Crist almost certainly won’t be the only Democrat to enter the race. An announcement by state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is believed to be imminent. 

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) is also weighing a bid for governor. Her congressional campaign released a video hours before Crist’s announcement on Tuesday touting her experience in an apparent tease at a run for higher office. 

Crist’s gubernatorial run is just the latest development in a long and tumultuous political career. A longtime Republican, Crist won the governor’s mansion in 2006. He mounted a bid for Senate in 2010 instead of seeking a second term as governor, eventually running as an Independent after losing the Republican primary. 

He lost that race to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) before running for governor again in 2014 as a Democrat and eventually losing to former Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Crist finally reentered public office in 2016 when he was elected as a Democrat to represent Florida’s Pinellas County-based 13th Congressional District, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, on the state’s Gulf Coast.

Crist has floated a potential gubernatorial run for months, even as some Florida Democrats privately expressed reservations about the idea. Crist’s allies have cautioned against underestimating the former governor, however, and are eager to note that he has the deepest fundraising experience among the potential Democratic hopefuls.

Still, he’s likely to face a competitive primary against a handful of prominent Florida Democrats. Fried, for instance, is betting that her status as Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat will give her a competitive edge in the race. And Demings has seen her name recognition soar over the past year.

What’s more, DeSantis likely won’t prove easy to defeat. Despite the fact that he remains a deeply polarizing figure in national politics, he has maintained relatively strong approval ratings in his home state.

A Mason-Dixon poll conducted in February found that 53 percent of Florida voters approve of DeSantis’s job performance, an 8-point increase since last July when his job approval hit just 45 percent as Florida struggled with the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis is also well-liked by conservatives and supporters of Trump, who carried Florida twice in 2016 and 2020.

Florida Democrats are heading into the 2022 midterms battered by a series of disappointing losses in recent years. In 2018, DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race while Scott ousted longtime Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), giving Republicans control of both of Florida’s Senate seats.

The 2020 election brought more disappointments for Democrats. Two of the party’s first-term members, Reps. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) and Debbie Mucarsel Powell (D-Fla.), lost their reelection bids in two key South Florida districts, and Trump carried the state for a second time after making key gains in Democratic strongholds like Miami-Dade County.

Updated 10:00 a.m.

Tags 2022 midterms Bill Nelson Charlie Crist Democratic primary Donald Trump Donna Shalala Florida governor Florida politics Marco Rubio Ron DeSantis Val Demings
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