Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist made his first campaign stop in South Florida Saturday as he angles to get his old job back as Florida governor.
Crist, who launched his campaign Tuesday in St. Petersburg, kicked off a day-long itinerary in Miami-Dade with Cuban-American Democrats at Tropical Park, where he spoke about loosening economic restrictions placed by the U.S. on the communist island.
“I’m running for governor because you deserve better,” he told an audience of about two dozen people while sitting a table filled with Cuban coffee and guava pastelitos, though he didn’t touch the food.
During his remarks, Crist outlined his policy stances on Democratic mainstays like expanding Medicaid, raising teacher salaries and committing to renewable energy. He also preached kindness, and portrayed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as a bully. He pointed out a contentious voting bill DeSantis recently signed into law behind closed doors.
“This isn’t about right versus left,” said Crist, who served as Florida’s Republican governor from 2007 to 2011. “This is right versus wrong.”
He gave two yellow wristbands that said “Practice the golden rule every day” to two little girls, who traded him the bracelets for a feather. Crist stuck the feather in the pocket of his pressed, white shirt. He then promised a donation to the Miami-Dade Democratic Cuban-Americans, a club dedicated to electing Cuban-American Democrats, of which there are none in the state Legislature or county commission.
Crist has been touring the state since announcing his third run for governor. His day was packed with events, complete with meeting Venezuelan Democrats in Doral, local faith leaders at an Overtown restaurant and Haitian elected officials at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
Crist is the first Democrat to officially jump in the race to challenge DeSantis, though the announcements of other candidates are imminent.
Horacio Sierra, president of the Cuban-American Democrats, said the Miami-based club can’t endorse candidates but is hoping to spread its message of Cuban, Democratic values. Sierra and other members have watched Crist’s position on Cuba change over the years, and pressed him on his stances toward the Communist island.
“We are tired of the Cuban Republicans exploiting the trauma of our community,” Sierra, a college professor, said.
When Crist ran an unsuccessful bid for governor as a Democrat against Rick Scott in 2014, he said he supported ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. The stance was a complete reversal from when he was state’s former Republican governor and as an independent Senate candidate in 2010.
As the Republican governor, Crist signed a state law raising the fees for agencies that book trips to Cuba, and backed U.S. sanctions. He left the party in 2010, and registered as a Democrat two years later. He has served in Congress since 2017.
In 2019, Crist quietly traveled to Cuba despite tension between leaders and former President Donald Trump’s administration over the turmoil in Venezuela. At the time, foreign policy advisors and Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio accused Cuba of enabling Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
On Saturday, he reiterated that he wants to loosen trade restrictions, rousing the applause of members.
“We need to open Cuba up,” he said. “It’s been under embargo for 50 years. It’s time to change.”
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report