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The evolutions of RonDeSantis.com and CharlieCrist.com

An analysis of the campaign websites shows how the candidates have changed.
Left: former Gov. Charlie Crist. Right: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Left: former Gov. Charlie Crist. Right: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. [ Tribune News Service ]
Published Sep. 2|Updated Sep. 2

Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist don’t have much in common, but they have this: Both have run campaigns for governor before.

At least once before this year’s governor’s race, each man broadcast a list of priorities to voters on a campaign website — RonDeSantis.com and CharlieCrist.com, respectively. The Tampa Bay Times analyzed past versions of those websites, which are still available via the internet archive, then compared them to each candidate’s 2022 platform.

Campaign websites give voters an unfiltered look at a candidate’s priorities at a particular moment, said Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida’s school of politics, security and international affairs.

But Jewett noted that the websites are campaign tools designed to attract voters.

“Candidates are not bound to things that they say or write on their specific websites,” Jewett said.

Has DeSantis delivered on promises?

While he was a candidate for governor in 2018, DeSantis’ website focused on promises. Among other things, he pledged to fight the opioid crisis, create a business-friendly environment and sign legislation restricting access to abortion.

Today, the governor’s reelection website is lighter on promises, emphasizing instead the areas in which DeSantis says he has delivered. For example, the DeSantis Playbook section of his website notes how he’s signed a law stiffening penalties for traffickers of fentanyl. The website highlights Florida’s strong economy and how he signed a law this year banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

DeSantis’ current website strikes a more defiant tone than the 2018 version. For example, in 2018, DeSantis promised to defend the First Amendment against “those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives.” His current website calls the news media “hysterical” and highlights DeSantis calling journalists “smear merchants.”

A screen grab from RonDeSantis.com taken Sept. 1, 2022.
A screen grab from RonDeSantis.com taken Sept. 1, 2022. [ RonDeSantis.com ]

Comparing the websites also shows how DeSantis has changed his messaging on certain issues.

Headed into the 2018 election, the political environment in Florida was much different than it is today. Republican candidates were bracing for a sizable backlash against then-President Donald Trump, whose approval rating was stuck in the low 40s.

DeSantis, a staunchly conservative U.S. representative who had openly courted Trump’s endorsement in the GOP primary for governor, had a difficult needle to thread. How to convince moderate voters he was to be trusted?

When he was soliciting Republican votes in the GOP primary, the front page of DeSantis’ site highlighted how he “led efforts” to “repeal ObamaCare.”

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A screen grab taken from an archived version of RonDeSantis.com. The page appeared this way on Aug. 22, 2018, according to the Internet Archive. Highlighting added by the Times.
A screen grab taken from an archived version of RonDeSantis.com. The page appeared this way on Aug. 22, 2018, according to the Internet Archive. Highlighting added by the Times. [ Internet Archive ]

By Oct. 23 — two weeks before the general election match-up with Democrat Andrew Gillum — his website’s front page made no mention of Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, which was viewed favorably by the majority of the public.

A version of RonDeSantis.com archived on Oct. 31, 2018. Unlike a previous version of the site, it makes no mention of the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare.
A version of RonDeSantis.com archived on Oct. 31, 2018. Unlike a previous version of the site, it makes no mention of the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare. [ Internet Archive ]

And just days before the November general election, DeSantis added a “health care” topic to his site. There, he promised to protect health care access for patients with preexisting conditions — a central tenet of the Affordable Care Act he had previously boasted about trying to repeal.

Crist the conservative?

Charlie Crist used to be a Republican. Now, he’s a Democrat. Somewhat predictably, his websites reflect that evolution.

In 2006, during his first run for governor, Crist’s campaign site read like that of a rising star in Republican politics.

It highlighted the fact that Crist was “inspired to serve by Ronald Reagan,” and described the way Crist promoted “family values.” It touted Crist’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal privileges and protections for same-sex married couples. It also boasted of Crist’s support for Second Amendment rights and his efforts to defend a law requiring parental notification of abortions.

A version of Charlie Crist's campaign website archived on Oct. 4, 2006, by the Internet Archive. Highlighting added by the Times.
A version of Charlie Crist's campaign website archived on Oct. 4, 2006, by the Internet Archive. Highlighting added by the Times. [ Internet Archive ]

The 2006 site also described Crist as “the most pro-business Attorney General in Florida’s history.”

By 2014, when he was running for governor the second time — this time, as a Democrat — Crist’s campaign positions had shifted. The site broadcast his support for marriage equality and said “Charlie believes that government should stay out of personal health decisions between a woman and her doctor.”

A screen grab from a version of CharlieCrist.com archived on Aug. 3, 2014, by the Internet Archive. Highlighting added by the Times.
A screen grab from a version of CharlieCrist.com archived on Aug. 3, 2014, by the Internet Archive. Highlighting added by the Times. [ Internet Archive. ]

Today, Crist’s site says he supports equal rights for LGBTQ Floridians, and it promises he will fight abortion restrictions as governor.

His current site also portrays him as more skeptical of big business than he once was: “The Crist administration won’t streamline bureaucracy to please industry and developers.”

Some of Crist’s priorities have remained steady through all of his runs. For example, each version of his campaign website discusses efforts to keep energy bills low at the expense of the state’s large utility companies.

And like DeSantis, Crist dedicates some space to highlighting his achievements from his term in the governor’s mansion. For example, Crist’s Justice for All issue page highlights how he restored voting rights to more than 150,000 convicted felons.

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the elections in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription. Or click here to make a donation to the Tampa Bay Times Journalism Fund.

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