With Florida’s gubernatorial race entering its final two weeks, education, immigration, property insurance, abortion and the economy took center stage Monday as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist faced off in the only debate of their campaign.
The debate was delayed two weeks because of Hurricane Ian.
DeSantis has appeared frequently on television to discuss recovery efforts, while the hurricane caused other candidates, including Crist, to temporarily dial back campaigning.
DeSantis has led in polls throughout the campaign and has a huge fundraising advantage. Crist and other Democrats have focused heavily in recent months on abortion rights, after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
DeSantis called Crist a political “chameleon” on abortion Monday night.
“He used to support a federal constitutional amendment that outlawed all abortion, regardless of any type of exceptions. Now he’s taken the other extreme position,” DeSantis said. “The question is, is this an honest change of heart or is this a guy that’s going to shift with whatever when he needs to try to keep his political career alive?”
Before the Supreme Court decision, DeSantis signed a law that prevents abortions in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy. During the debate, Crist argued that DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature would go further in limiting abortion rights if DeSantis is re-elected.
Crist also questioned DeSantis’ directives before Hurricane Ian, which has killed more than 100 people, and DeSantis’ positions during the COVID-19 pandemic. He contended that DeSantis’ positions, which have included opposition to mask and vaccination requirements, have resulted in thousands of needless deaths.
“Ron, I wouldn’t pat yourself on the back too much about your response to COVID,” Crist said. “We’ve lost 82,000 of our fellow Floridians. And when you look at the Thanksgiving table, one of those empty seats is probably one of those people for many families watching tonight. If we only had the standard of other states in the United States, 40,000 of those people would still be alive, enough to fill Tropicana Stadium in St. Petersburg.”
DeSantis defended steps such as reopening the economy earlier than other states during the pandemic, saying a longer lockdown would have ravaged Florida businesses.
“Our hospitality and tourism industry, which has thrived, would have gone into disrepair,” DeSantis said. “It would have thrown millions of Floridians into turmoil. And I can tell you as Charlie Crist and his friends in Congress were urging you to be locked down, I lifted you up. I protected your rights. I made sure you could earn a living.”
RNC Spokeswoman Julia Friedland said about the debate, “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.”
Friedland was referring to a video in which Crist said he doesn’t want DeSantis voters to vote for him. calling them haters.
DeSantis and Crist agreed a Broward County jury should have recommended the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at a Parkland high school in 2018. The jury this month decided that Cruz would serve life without parole.
Both candidates grew up in the Tampa Bay region: Crist in St. Petersburg, DeSantis in Dunedin.
DeSantis entered Congress in 2012, where he was a founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. With backing from then-President Donald Trump, DeSantis won the Republican nomination for governor in 2018 and narrowly defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election.
Crist was a Republican when he was successively elected as a state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor. After losing the 2010 U.S. Senate race, he became a Democrat and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014 against then-Gov. Rick Scott. Crist won a Pinellas County congressional seat in 2016.
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