MIAMI — Democrat Charlie Crist came into his first and only debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ready with a single question about his opponent’s political aspirations Monday night.
“You’re running for governor,” Crist said, glancing at DeSantis as the governor looked forward. “Why don’t you look the people of the state of Florida in the eye and tell them that if you’re re-elected, you’ll serve a full four-year term as governor. Yes or no?”
DeSantis said nothing as four seconds passed and the debate room began to go silent.
“Yes or no, Ron?” Crist asked again.
DeSantis asked the moderator what his allotted time was.
“It’s not a hard question,” Crist said, filling in the dead air. ” It’s a good question. He won’t tell you.
That’s when the moderator, Liz Quirantes of WFOR-TV, stepped in and pointed out that both parties had agreed not to ask questions on stage.
DeSantis then went on the attack.
“Well listen,” he said, “I know Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make it very, very clear. The only worn out donkey I’m looking to graze is Charlie Crist.
The exchange, which took place within the first 20 minutes of the hour-long debate, underscored the dynamics of the race: Crist, the former governor trying to make a comeback by needling the incumbent governor, and DeSantis, giving as sour as possible.
On topics ranging from housing and insurance to immigration and transgender therapies for children, the candidates exchanged insults, pre-cooked one-liners and talking points as supporters on either side in the audience howled derision towards the other guy and approval of theirs.
Crist called DeSantis a “divider” and a “tyrant,” while DeSantis repeatedly cast Crist as a Biden Democrat who voted with the president “100% of the time” before leaving Congress to focus on peace. race for governor. When Crist blamed DeSantis for rising utility bills and skyrocketing cost of hurricane insurance, DeSantis blamed Crist for backing Biden’s policies amid rising insecurity. inflation.
DeSantis leads Crist in every major poll in Florida, with poll averages giving him a lead of up to 10 percentage points in a state he won by less than half a percentage point in 2018. .
Time and time again Monday night, Crist returned to the issue of DeSantis’ impending decision on whether he would run for president in 2024. Each time, DeSantis refused to take the bait.
That wasn’t the only question DeSantis didn’t answer.
DeSantis, who signed a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, did not say whether he would enact new limitations — a question he also dodged to reporters.
Asked by the moderator after which week of pregnancy abortion should be banned, DeSantis pivoted to talk about how the mother of his new state Supreme Court Justice, Renatha Francis, was told to abort her child. but decided not to.
“I just think we’re better when everyone counts. I understand that not everyone is going to be born into perfect circumstances. But I wish everyone had a chance,” DeSantis said, accusing Crist of supporting “sex-selective abortions, which are used to discriminate against little girls.”
“He supports dismemberment abortions, where they will literally rip the baby from limb to limb, and he supports taxpayer funding right up to the moment of birth, and that’s wrong,” DeSantis said.
Crist accused DeSantis of lying and getting away with it.
“He didn’t answer your question. Do you want to completely ban abortion? He never succeeded. He talked about Jamaica,” Crist said. “I don’t want to ban abortion. I want to make sure we keep the right to choose wives available to women in the state of Florida.
Crist then highlighted the case of a schoolgirl in Jacksonville who said she was raped but couldn’t have an abortion because she was more than 15 weeks pregnant. So she was taken to another state.
“That’s not compassionate leadership,” Crist said. “That’s not the right thing to do. It’s not even having a heart. It’s ruthless. It’s barbaric, and it’s wrong, and Florida deserves better.
DeSantis fired back by noting that Crist, a former Republican, once presented himself as a “pro-life” conservative and was therefore “a bit of a chameleon.”
“The question is, is this an honest change of heart?” he said. “Or is he the guy who’s going to change with the wind he needs to try and keep his political career alive? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Crist was more evasive about allowing teens to receive hormones or puberty blockers or have operations if they felt their gender identity did not match their birth sex.
DeSantis proposed banning the practices in Florida and, on the debate stage, denounced “double mastectomies on young girls…chemical castration of young boys…genital mutilation”.
Crist tried to steer the discussion more towards abortion.
“It reminds me of your position on a woman’s right to choose,” Crist said. “You think you know better than any doctor or any doctor or any woman who can make decisions about their own personal health.”
DeSantis then told Crist, “You support him for minors. You should be honest about the issue.”
Crist was more blunt in criticizing DeSantis for his “inhumane” use of Florida funds to transport Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last month to make a political point about immigration at the southern border, which Crist admitted to be a “problem”. .”
“I thought what the governor did was a horrible political stunt,” Crist said. “Are you ready to use people like that…and have them as props for your political gain?” This is not the way to change policy. You can change policy and do what is right to secure the border by implementing comprehensive immigration reform. That’s what I voted for in Congress. When you were in Congress, you wouldn’t, because you want to keep this issue alive. You want to have it as a corner issue. And you want to do political stunts like you did with the taxpayers’ money of the people of Florida.
Crist, however, avoided answering if he thought Florida should be a “sanctuary state.” And DeSantis then focused on Biden.
“You say you’re for a secure border, but this is all happening under the Biden administration and the policies supported by Charlie Crist,” DeSantis said, adding that the Martha’s Vineyard flights have raised the issue of immigration.
“We have elites in this country who want to impose policies on you, but they don’t want to have to suffer the same consequences that you might have in your community,” he said. “What we did – it’s sad to come to this – but we brought this issue to the fore.”
DeSantis also proudly touted his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his decision to reopen state and public schools early, in addition to banning mask and vaccination mandates. Crist, in Congress at the time, opposed these measures.
“I can tell you Charlie Crist and his friends in Congress were urging you to get locked up, I lifted you up,” DeSantis said. “I protected your rights. I made sure you could make a living. I made sure you could operate your businesses. And I worked hard to make sure all of our kids went to school in person five days a week.
Crist pointed out that DeSantis does not talk about people who died and became ill with Covid under his watch.
“We had one of the highest death rates in America, Ron, and over 6 million of our fellow Floridaians got Covid under your watch,” he said. “Now that’s not something to brag about and be proud of.”
DeSantis interpreted the data in a different way, adjusting death rates by age and saying, “Thirty-eight other states had higher Covid death rates for older people than we did in Florida. And I think that’s the approach that people should have taken: focus on the vulnerable population, but make sure you don’t lock in the rest of the people. We have thrived as a result. This wouldn’t have happened if Charlie Crist had succeeded and locked down the state of Florida in July 2020.”