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Charlie Crist sounds serious about 2022 governor’s race

Crist has elaborated a list of reasons for joining the race: dissatisfaction with Gov. Ron DeSantis, particularly his handling of the coronavirus, and Crist’s own positioning as a moderate Democrat.
Charlie Crist greets supporters at the Renaissance Vinoy, St. Petersburg, the night of his 2007 victory in Florida's governors race. Crist is considering challenging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022.
Charlie Crist greets supporters at the Renaissance Vinoy, St. Petersburg, the night of his 2007 victory in Florida's governors race. Crist is considering challenging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2007) ]
Published Feb. 5, 2021|Updated Feb. 5, 2021

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, is sounding serious about challenging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022.

That puts Crist in a crowd of potential Democrats eying the race, but he would have some advantages: a Tampa Bay area base and a long history of statewide campaigns, though with mixed results.

On Friday, he made it clear to MSNBC’s Willie Geist: “I am considering a run for governor again.”

And in recent interviews with the Times and CBS Miami’s Jim DeFede, Crist’s answer to the question was that people are suggesting he run, and “My mind is open to it.”

Crist elaborated a long list of reasons for joining the race: dissatisfaction with DeSantis, particularly his handling of the coronavirus, and Crist’s own positioning as a moderate Democrat in favor of law enforcement, environmental protection, civil rights and public education.

After starting his career as a state senator, Crist has run statewide six times, winning three times and losing once as a Republican, then losing once as an independent and once as a Democrat.

As a Republican, he lost a hopeless 1992 race against Sen. Bob Graham, running mainly to build statewide name recognition; then won a two-year education commissioner term in 2000, attorney general in 2002 and governor in 2006.

He then left the GOP and lost a 2010 Senate race as an independent to Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek; then became a Democrat and lost to Rick Scott for governor in 2014, before winning his House seat in 2016.

Republicans vilified Crist for allying with President Barack Obama in 2009 and leaving the GOP, but Crist said the party had gone too far right and Obama’s stimulus plan saved Florida.

Of DeSantis, he told the Times this week, “I’m disappointed in the leadership in Tallahassee.

“The vaccine rollout is a mess, like there wasn’t any planning or preparation, and it’s not as if we didn’t know it was coming.

“The best analogy I can draw is you know when a hurricane is approaching, you prepare for it. That didn’t happen and I don’t understand it.”

He said the administration has failed at transparency — “Being straightforward, honest and trustworthy is important. I’m just not seeing that from this current governor.”

Crist said he’s talked to other potential Democratic candidates about the race “out of respect and to be straightforward and honest,” but wouldn’t discuss who or the content of the talks.

At least half a dozen prominent Democrats are being discussed as potential candidates, including former Rep. Gwen Graham, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy.

There has been speculation among Pinellas political insiders that the Republican-controlled Legislature would seek to alter Crist’s congressional district in hope of unseating him. In November, Crist beat comparative unknown Republican Anna Paulina Luna by six points.

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Crist said he’s not concerned about that prospect, and that it has nothing to do with his consideration of the governor’s race — “The two things aren’t related in my mind.”

If he left his House seat for the governor’s race, the result would be a scramble, probably in both parties, of candidates hoping to replace him. At least one likely Democratic possibility: state Rep. Ben Diamond.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.

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