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Charlie Crist hones message a year into campaign trail for Florida governor

Democratic U.S. Rep. Crist marked the anniversary of his campaign with a news conference where he touted his credentials and denounced Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Rep. Charlie Crist, marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, waves after a news conference at Swope, Rodante P.A., a law firm's Tampa office. Former attorney general candidate Sean Shaw, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, state Rep. Dianne Hart and former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner stood with him during his remarks.
Rep. Charlie Crist, marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, waves after a news conference at Swope, Rodante P.A., a law firm's Tampa office. Former attorney general candidate Sean Shaw, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, state Rep. Dianne Hart and former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner stood with him during his remarks. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 4|Updated May 4

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Wednesday continued to hone his messaging as he faces a competitive Democratic primary for Florida governor, attacking Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as “the worst governor in Florida’s modern era” and avoiding any mention of his primary opponents.

At a news conference to mark the one-year anniversary of his entry into the governor’s race, Crist touched on issues of overall affordability, good jobs and health care access. He compared DeSantis to Russian President Vladimir Putin, former Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, saying all would “nod in approval” with how DeSantis is running Florida.

Crist, who was the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, continued his campaign strategy of focusing on DeSantis instead of on his primary opponents, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo — despite the Fried campaign’s recent attacks on Crist’s record on housing and abortion rights.

Crist is considered the frontrunner in the Democratic field, bringing in more endorsements and campaign cash than Fried or Taddeo. But it’s an uphill slog for the Democrats against an incumbent governor who has a massive war chest and regularly hosts news conferences surrounded by cheering supporters.

Rep. Charlie Crist, marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, poses for a picture with attendees after a news conference at Swope, Rodante P.A., a law firm's Tampa office. Former attorney general candidate Sean Shaw, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, state Rep. Dianne Hart and former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner stood with him during his remarks.
Rep. Charlie Crist, marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, poses for a picture with attendees after a news conference at Swope, Rodante P.A., a law firm's Tampa office. Former attorney general candidate Sean Shaw, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, state Rep. Dianne Hart and former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner stood with him during his remarks. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Crist held his anniversary news conference in the office lobby of Tampa law firm Swope, Rodante P.A., a Crist campaign donor, surrounded by a small group of political supporters, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

After a year of campaigning, Crist has raised about $8 million through the end of March. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $136 million that DeSantis’ political committee has raised so far. Add DeSantis’ direct campaign fundraising and the Republican Party of Florida’s arsenal, and the total grows even higher.

Former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, left, walks with Rep. Charlie Crist after his news conference in Ybor City on Wednesday marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign.
Former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, left, walks with Rep. Charlie Crist after his news conference in Ybor City on Wednesday marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Crist has been crisscrossing the state in recent months, holding roundtables and attending rallies. But the attention he’s drawn — and that has been drawn by his Democratic competitors — has nowhere matched the national eye and chatter around DeSantis.

Crist dismissed the gap in fundraising performance and referenced the multimillion-dollar boon that 2018 gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum saw after Gillum became the Democratic nominee.

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Crist on Wednesday went over a list of what he sees as DeSantis’ offenses, including signing a 15-week abortion ban that doesn’t allow for exceptions for rape or incest, challenging Black representation in Congress, attacking Disney, appointing an “anti-vaccine, anti-mask quack” as surgeon general, and banning certain math textbooks.

“This governor is a bully,” Crist said. “He imitates the worst of authoritarian leaders aligned against the United States. And he’s doing it for one reason — his ambition to capture the Republican nomination for president of the United States in 2024.”

An attendee opens the door to Swope, Rodante P.A., a law firm's Tampa office, inside the old Florida Brewery Co. building in Ybor City, where Rep. Charlie Crist held a news conference Wednesday marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign.
An attendee opens the door to Swope, Rodante P.A., a law firm's Tampa office, inside the old Florida Brewery Co. building in Ybor City, where Rep. Charlie Crist held a news conference Wednesday marking a year of his gubernatorial campaign. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

In response, Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, said Crist owes the Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan communities “who escaped from the murderous clutches of the Castro, Maduro and (Nicaraguan President Daniel) Ortega regimes an apology.”

Ferre said the comment shows Crist is out of touch with the Hispanic community and said, “This is going to be the third statewide campaign he is going to lose.”

Related: Florida Democrats hope anti-abortion Supreme Court ruling could supercharge governor's race

Crist on Wednesday also briefly touched on the recent leak of a draft opinion that signaled the Supreme Court may do away with Roe v. Wade, with Crist saying the stakes of the election were now even higher. Crist, whose stances on abortion have been inconsistent over the years, said he supports a woman’s right to choose.

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