ST. PETERSBURG — Charlie Crist saw his name on the ballot for the 18th time on Monday. But when he walked out of a downtown St. Petersburg early voting location, he told a cadre of local news cameras that this time felt the most important.
“What (Gov. Ron) DeSantis has done to our state, (he’s) torn apart our Florida,” said the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, whose former offices include the U.S. House as well as governor and attorney general as a Republican. “We need to unite our Florida again and that’s what this election really is all about.”
Eight days before Election Day, candidates across Florida are making their closing arguments to voters. Crist, who has focused on abortion rights as the central plank of his campaign, kicked off a statewide “Choose Freedom” bus tour Monday after casting his ballot. Before that, he spent the weekend holding a virtual phone bank in support of abortion rights and attending the Florida A&M University homecoming football game, and his campaign launched a “Votercade for Democracy” tour focused on mobilizing Hispanic voters.
DeSantis also had a busy weekend: On Friday, he joined country music star Luke Bryan on stage at a Jacksonville concert to toss ball caps into the audience before they announced that Bryan would be donating a “large portion” of the proceeds of an upcoming show in Estero to the state of Florida for Hurricane Ian relief. After Bryan received some backlash on social media, he posted a statement saying he understands DeSantis is a “very polarizing figure ... but I grew up in a country where if a governor asks you if they can come and raise awareness to help victims of a natural disaster you help.”
DeSantis also appeared at the Florida-Georgia college football game on Saturday to do the coin toss, before rallying in New York that night for Republican candidate for governor Lee Zeldin.
DeSantis’ in-person support of Republicans in other states — particularly so close to Election Day — has continued to fuel 2024 presidential speculation about the governor. And it projects DeSantis’ confidence in a reelection victory.
He has reason for optimism. State data shows that Florida’s voting population continued to turn redder in the lead-up to the 2022 general election. Republicans have over 300,000 more registered voters than Florida Democrats as of Oct. 11, the last day to register to vote in the general election.
Republicans have also surpassed Democrats in the number of total ballots cast so far via mail and in-person early voting by about 96,000, according to Monday data. (Nearly 524,000 voters registered with no party affiliation or with a third party have also voted.)
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That’s “a real problem” for Democrats, particularly because Republicans typically have higher turnout on Election Day, said Susan McManus, a retired political science professor and longtime Florida political analyst. She’s noticed the party’s biggest turnout “trouble spots” look to be younger and Black voters.
”The reason they’re bringing in the big guns is to increase turnout,” she added, referencing an upcoming rally with President Joe Biden in South Florida and a Barack Obama robocall in support of Florida Democrats. “They don’t have a lot of time.”
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