Democrat Charlie Crist used the occasion of his only scheduled debate with Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday evening to pummel the Republican governor over his restrictions on abortion rights, for ignoring science when writing Covid and transgender policy, for sidestepping 82,000 Covid deaths in Florida, and for refusing to commit to serving a full second term.
DeSantis, looking alternatively ill at ease and pugnacious during the one-hour contest, fired back, accusing former U.S. Rep. Crist of being soft on crime and immigration enforcement. He insisted that his Covid policies preserved Florida’s economy, boosted parents’ rights, and touted school testing results, though the latest national data Monday showed 4th and 8th graders were unable to reach proficiency in math and reading.
Meanwhile, the audience gathered in Fort Pierce’s Sunrise Theatre proved as much a participant as either candidate, cheering their own team while jeering at the opposition. “Liar!” somebody yelled during DeSantis’ closing remarks.
Like a stern and somewhat angry dad — Crist is 66 and DeSantis is 44 — Crist scolded DeSantis over the truthfulness of the governor’s remarks several times, saying, “It’s not true and you know it.”
And at one point Crist questioned whether DeSantis had the temperament to lead. Crist was a former Republican governor, Attorney General and Education Commissioner before he became a Democrat.
But DeSantis said:
“When a once-in-a-century pandemic hit, I led based on facts, not based on fear. I lifted you up while some, like Charlie Crist, wanted to lock you down. I took a lot of flak in the process but, through it all, I was always more concerned about protecting your job than I was about saving my own.”
‘I want to be a uniter’
Crist summed up his argument against an incumbent he’d frequently accused of bullying during the debate.
“I want to be a uniter. I want to bring this state back together and not have a divider as a governor. I want women to have the right to choose and make their own decisions about your body, especially in cases of rape or incest,” Crist said.
The challenger pressed DeSantis several times about whether he would pledge to serve a four-year term if reelected — a dig at the governor’s clear presidential ambitions. Crist accused DeSantis of ignoring rising housing and insurance costs because he’s more interested in appealing to the national GOP base ahead of 2024.
“He won’t even tell you if he’ll serve four years if you reelect him. I mean, come on. You deserve better than that. Florida deserves better than that.”
Asked point blank by Crist whether he’d commit to a full term, DeSantis stared ahead, saying nothing for several moments. Finally, the moderator pointed out that the debate rules precluded the candidates questioning each other, but it was an awkward moment for the governor.
DeSantis did kinda sorta answer that question without making a firm pledge.
“I just want to make things very, very clear: The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.
Early voting begins
The debate, sponsored by WPEC in West Palm Beach and broadcast on CBS affiliates statewide, came as early voting began in some counties and two weeks and a day before voting concludes on Nov. 8.
Crist opened the evening as a clear underdog whom DeSantis has far outstripped in fundraising and polling. Between his campaign account and the Friends of Ron DeSantis committee, the governor’s sitting on more than $107 million in cash on hand. The Friends of Charlie Crist committee and Crist’s campaign account has a nearly $2.2 million in combined totals. All those figures were good as of the Oct. 14 financial disclosures.
The moderator called attention to the fan Crist aides had placed on the stage near his podium — a standard practice for Crist during public appearances.
Crist certainly came out hot during the debate, attacking DeSantis for the 15-week abortion ban he pushed through the Legislature this spring, for his airlift to Massachusetts of mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers, moving against gender-affirming care for kids, and restricting sports participation by trans girls and discussions of the country’s history of racial discrimination in the public schools.
“We ought to teach facts in our schools. We ought to teach the truth in our schools,” Crist said.
DeSantis hit back.
“When you oppose a parents’ rights in education bill which prevents 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds from having sexuality, gender ideology injected in their curriculum, you are the one that’s waging the culture war. I’m simply defending parents and students,” he said.
“It’s inappropriate to tell a 6-year-old that they were born in the wrong body; it’s inappropriate to tell an 8-year-old that they may have been born a girl but maybe they’re really a boy. That’s wrong. We need to do the basics. We need to teach them to read, write, add, and subtract,” he continued.
“You love dividing our state, whether it’s Blacks against whites, whether it’s straights against gays, whether it’s young versus old. You’re making it harder to vote in our state,” Crist said. “That’s anti-democracy.”
Crist returned again and again to abortion, accusing DeSantis of preferring to talk about critical race theory and transgender kids than explain whether he’ll ask the Legislature for further abortion restrictions.
“You’re taking away from all these other issues because you don’t want to talk about taking away a woman’s right to choose. And that’s on the ballot in this election,” Crist said.
Following the debate, the parties issued statements attempting to spin the outcome.
The Florida Democratic Party, for example, called DeSantis the “gun violence candidate.”
“Ron DeSantis claims he’s improved public safety, but he’s made Florida less safe by opposing gun safety laws. DeSantis declared that he would have vetoed the measures taken after the Parkland tragedy to keep children safe, stayed largely silent this summer after shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and even vetoed money for a youth training complex after the Tampa Bay Rays simply tweeted against gun violence,” a written statement read.
“Worse yet, Ron DeSantis has promised that he would institute a dangerous “criminal carry” law, removing the need for any permit or training to carry hidden weapons — a policy opposed by law enforcement. DeSantis has also expressed animosity toward common sense background checks,” it continued.
Crist’s own campaign proclaimed: “GAME CHANGED: Crist Dominates Gubernatorial Election Debate.” (All caps in the original.)
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Julia Friedland countered: “From his uninspiring campaign built on lies to his disastrous debate performance tonight, Charlie Crist has made it clear that he doesn’t want people to vote for him. In fact, he said so himself.”
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
Charlie Crist made DeSantis look like a young rookie that had a very hard time answering questions, he kept doing his best to distract from the question.
He was asked three times if he were to run for President would that cut his position as Governor shorter then 4 years, he got that stupid blank look on his face and refused to answer.
When asked about paying teachers more in salaries he never answered that question either.
Charlie Crist if voters are honest with themselves he is the more professional qualified candidate.
Crist is running on abortion, but guess what? That won’t get him a win, because abortion doesn’t affect everyone like inflation, food, gas, electric, etc. That’s what Crist should be running on, instead of defund the police and abortion. He raised State taxes last time he was Governor, why would we want that again?
Can you provide any evidence at all that Crist is running on “defund the police”?
Any quotes, interviews, etc. where he actually says that?
Looks like you didn’t watch the debate yet you have something to say about it.
Well written article… facts and no opinion for the author. I am left to draw my own conclusions…
Uh… this comment was put under the wrong article.. This comment was made yesterday under the article regarding the judges….
According to the polls today DeSantis bombed at last nights debate and if you watched it live you would have witnessed that for yourselve.
He showed those that have or haven’t voted for him that he is incompetent to be in public office.
All he is good at is being a bully, and insulting others. He feels if that is how it got his idol Trump elected then he should be just as insulting.
Bill C says
“Asked point blank by Crist whether he’d commit to a full term, DeSantis stared ahead, saying nothing for several moments.” (that’s a NO.) DeSantis finally dodged with a flat-footed insult- “The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put to pasture is Charlie Crist” DeSantis, scrambling for a dodge, unconsciously blurted out his age bias toward seniors. Crist is 66. And on the subject of gender identity there exists no greater gender role imposed on the population than the idea that women don’t deserve to be paid as much as men or are unqualified for executive positions. Women are still paid 83 cents for every dollar that men earn. DeSantis wants to deny a woman’s right to chose what to do with her body, then keep her in the poorhouse.
The candidates were told they could not ask each other questions. As usual, one could not follow the rules. What a surprise. No matter the subject, someone is the victim in the democrat party world. Is that right to do what she wants to her body include vaccines?
Bill C says
The point is DeSantis intends to abandon Florida after two years to run for president, that’s why he wouldn’t commit to a full four year term- a lie of omission.
The people of pinellas county do not have a representative in Congress because Charlie Christ resigned in August
Two years with Gov. DeSantis is much better than four years with Charlie.
I thought there was not supposed to be an audience and I wish there wasn’t, instead Gov. Duh just played for the audience with the same old tired blame everyone else for Florida woes and not my problem. Both sides played loose with some facts yet I thought Charlie had the better debate overall just like Val did against Rubio.
What is sad and pathetic those that drink the kool aide will still vote for Rubio and Deathsantis. Wake up people they only care about greed, power and money. You are nothing to them.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Another call to arms by Flaglers finest democrats. You bitch & moan about our governor, yet he gets the job done. Out of all the fine people in Fl, you guys picked another old senile fool, who would melt without his fan. Its great we have 2 parties, good discusion is great for society & America. If your not happy, get out and vote, show you care about our future. Excuses are like assholes…Everybody got one, but they all stink. Get off the couch and go vote!
Dennis: Your bigotry of seniors is sadly blatant. Would you please provide evidence that Crist is “…another old senile fool…”? I assume you mean Trump, right? You and DeSantis should hope to be so lucky as to make it to 66 years old, which you think is terrible. Too bad you do not understand, yet, that it takes time to accumulate wisdom, something that is sorely lacking in DeSantis.
I question your mental capacity, with your bigotry. Crist made DeSantis look like the fool.
Right. Gov. Duh. Has done nothing to better the lives of Floridians. U all need to be better informed
Charlie will not win because enough Democratic voters will not get out and vote. We complain about the Repubs but the Republicans get out and vote for their candidate. Don’t like the Repubs but I will say they know how to win elections. The Democratic Leaders need to get a page out of the Republican play book so they can learn how to win. The Republicans will have a blood bath during the mid term elections. If they win big, nothing will get done. The Democrats can only blame themselves for that.
Aj: Unfortunately, Democrats do not sell themselves. They should be telling people that the Republicans fully intend to shut down the government to slash Social Security and Medicare, as Kevin McCarthy has promised if they get in power. It’s really hard to believe that so many people would vote against their own interest, but I’m sure Fox Entertainment isn’t pushing that vital information. The Democrats should.
I hate to call people names, but anyone that would vote for a democrat after this shit show, is a complete idiot…
So I watched the debate on YouTube. Poor DeSantis, he looked so lost! Crist is so much smarter than DeSantis, and it showed. DeSantis just kept crying Biden this and Biden that, and he looked like a deer in the headlights when Crist asked him if he intended to stay the entire time as governor. You know that the only two years that DeSantis will stay, he’ll be out running for President and not governing Florida. Actually, I’m surprised that DeSantis didn’t lie and say yes! He lied about other stuff like abortion at the very moment of birth and how babies are not resuscitated at birth when viable. Only in the most dire of circumstances is late abortion considered. He lied when he stated that adults are telling children they are born in the wrong body. No, children are telling their parents, not the other way around. I’ve never heard of an under-aged child having a radical mastectomy for gender change, instead they are getting hormone therapy that slows the gender development, which is reversible.
Poor DeSantis, he stupidly attacked senior citizens calling Crist a”worn out old donkey,” which I found extremely offensive. Crist looks in better shape, both mentally and physically than DeSantis. If you like having your Social Security and Medicare slashed, as the Republicans will fight to do as they said they would, then they are for you. If you are younger, then you are voting to slash your mom and pop’s security that they paid into all their lives. Maybe you should vote for someone who will try to improve the system. The very best the Republicans will do is privatize it and give it to their buddies, who will get rich off it and leave you, mom and pop and grandma and grand-pop without their fixed income.