TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Challenge Florida Governor Ron DeSantis refused to commit to serving a full four-year term if re-elected under pressure from his Democratic rival, charlie christin their only gubernatorial debate on Monday.
Crist, a former congressman and one-term governor, accused DeSantis, a rising Republican star seen as a likely 2024 presidential candidate, of being too distracted by his domestic political ambitions to lead well. DeSantis circumvented several attempts by Crist to get him to say he would serve a full second term.
“I know Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to be very, very clear: The only old, worn donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist,” DeSantis said. of his 66-year-old opponent.
Later, Crist replied, “You won’t even say if you want to be Governor of Florida after this election.
There were several heated clashes during a heated debate that covered the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion, crime, education and President Joe Biden. The meeting was held on the first day of statewide early voting; already, more than 1.1 million votes have been cast, the most in the country.
Florida’s gubernatorial race may not be the nation’s most competitive election this fall, but it’s no less important for DeSantis, a 44-year-old Harvard-educated Republican who could launch a presidential bid. In the coming months. He hopes to use a strong re-election victory on November 8 in Florida, a state he carried by only 32,000 votes out of 8.2 million players four years ago, to demonstrate the extent and strength of its support.
DeSantis has benefited from demographic shifts across Florida, a perennial swing state that has moved to the right during his first term. Former President Donald Trump lifted the state by more than 3 points in 2020 and Republicans now hold a registration advantage of nearly 300,000 voters.
Monday’s debate offered voters in Florida and elsewhere a rare opportunity to see DeSantis under pressure. Like many senior GOP officials across the country this fall, he has limited unscripted moments in recent months except for periodic interviews with friendly conservative media.
The contestants faced off, both in dark suits and purple ties, behind wooden lecterns in Fort Pierce at the Sunrise Theater in Florida. Both men seemed to be enjoying the hour-long fight, which was repeatedly interrupted by the rowdy audience.
DeSantis’ embrace of divisive cultural issues weighed heavily on the prime-time affair.
The Republican governor specifically defended his record for prevent transgender girls from competing on public school teams intended for student-athletes identified as female at birth. He also fired back at Crist’s criticism of laws DeSantis signed limiting discussions of race and sexual orientation at school and its opposition to gender-transitional treatments for minors.
“You think you know better than any doctor or any doctor or any woman,” Crist said. “You must lead by uniting people, not by dividing them.”
Yet DeSantis has delighted his followers time and time again with his extraordinary will to fight — whether against political adversaries, the federal government, or powerful Florida corporations. Crist, a former Republican governor who recently served as a Democratic congressman, has tried to cast himself as a moderate alternative to lead the perennial swing state.
DeSantis’ leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ian were also loaded topics.
Crist noted that DeSantis closed businesses and schools across the state at the start of the pandemic, then ignored science by opening them too soon, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
“We had one of the highest death rates in America, Ron,” Crist said.
“He called for harsh closures,” DeSantis replied. “It would have thrown millions of Floridians into turmoil.”
Time and time again, DeSantis has also sought to link Crist to Biden, whose popularity is waning in Florida and across the country. “Charlie Crist voted with Joe Biden 100% of the time,” DeSantis said, referring to the “Crist-Biden agenda.”
The debate was postponed from earlier this month due to Hurricane Ian, which claimed more than 100 lives along the state’s southwest coast. Thousands of homes have been destroyed and several schools remain closed in Lee County, a major Republican stronghold.
The Category 4 storm exposed flaws in the fragile state property insurance market, which has lost more than $1 billion in each of the past two years. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians have seen their policies abandoned or not renewed.
Crist accused DeSantis of failing to resolve the insurance crisis. DeSantis accused Crist of being absent during the storm.
“He was hiding in Puerto Rico. He wasn’t helping his community,” DeSantis said.
When the discussion turned to gun violence, both candidates said they would support the death penalty for Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who this month was life sentence for the murder of 17 people in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.
DeSantis added that he would push the legislature to change state law requiring a unanimous jury for the death sentences. That would put Florida in a distinct minority among the 27 states that still have the death penalty, where nearly all require unanimity from juries.
“I will ask the Florida Legislature to change this law so that a juror does not have the right to veto the appropriate sentence,” DeSantis said.
Crist has also sought to make abortion a key goal, following the playbook of Democrats across the country following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
In April, DeSantis signed a law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, without exception for rape or incest. Asked by the moderator, DeSantis declined to say whether he supports a complete ban on abortion.
“You deserve a better governor who cares about freedom and your right to choose,” Crist said.
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