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The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our hosts, veteran journalists from our partner public radio stations: WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami and WJCT’s Melissa Ross, broadcasting from Jacksonville.

Charlie Crist wants 'to get Florida back on track', GOP committeemen calls him 'a political chameleon

 U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, meets with a group of local activists, business people, and community leaders inside a home in Hollywood, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.
Rebecca Blackwell
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, meets with a group of local activists, business people, and community leaders inside a home in Hollywood, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Charlie Crist is the top Democrat running for governor in a new poll, yet is far behind Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in his re-election bid.

Charlie Crist is the current frontrunner in a crowded field vying to take on Ron DeSantis this fall. However, the governor has a strong lead by Florida standards.

A new Mason-Dixon poll says Crist, who served as governor when he was a Republican, is running well ahead of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and State Senator Annette Taddeo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The same poll also shows the current governor is a heavy favorite to win re-election. Ron DeSantis leads Crist by 51 to 43 percent among likely voters. And, 53 percent of Florida voters say they approve of the job DeSantis has done in office.

"I don't think everybody likes the way he's running the state," Crist told The Florida Roundup. "This week alone, he's attacking the LGBTQ (community), making life more difficult for women who want to have the right to choose (by) trying to take away Roe v. Wade, hurting education by taking another $200 million from several districts across the state that simply wanted to make sure that children and teachers were safe in the classroom."

There's so many things that need to be done to get Florida back on track.
Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist

Crist is referring to the "Don't Say Gay" legislation prohibiting Florida primary school teachers from discussing sexual orientation of gender identity with students, a House-approved measure limiting abortions in Florida to 15 weeks with no exception for rape or incest, and efforts to reduce state education funding to school districts that instituted mask mandates last fall.

Crist called DeSantis' COVID-19 leadership "horrible," arguing the governor "advocates for getting medicine after you've already gotten sick." DeSantis has been a vocal and frequent proponent of monoclonal antibody treatments and has been criticized for not being more outspoken about vaccines. DeSantis was an early proponent to focus vaccination efforts on the elderly.

"Charlie Crist is a political chameleon," said Broward County GOP Committeeman Richard DiNapoli. "He's addicted to running for governor."

Crist served as Florida governor from 2007 until 2011 when he ran for U.S. Senate first as a Republican, then as an independent after losing the GOP nomination to Marco Rubio. Crist became a Democrat in 2012. He ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Rick Scott.

(Crist is) addicted to running for governor.
Broward GOP Committeeman Richard DiNapoli

"I became a Democrat because I am sincere," said Crist,"because I am listening to the values that my mother and father raised me and my three sisters on — to be decent to other people, to be respectful to one another."

Crist hopes to appeal to voters turned off by social issues taken on by DeSantis such as his approach to public education and abortion restrictions.

"There's so many things that need to be done to get Florida back on track and make Florida the really great state that she already is — by staying out of these culture war issues that are nothing but divisive and be focused on kitchen table issues," Crist said.

Republican supporters of the governor point out DeSantis has been very active with economic issues – most notably reopening the state in the spring of 2020 before most states and reopening schools with in-classroom instruction when schools in other states remained exclusively online. "He's put Floridians first," DiNapoli said.

DeSantis is pushing to suspend the state's 26.5-cent-per-gallon sales tax for five months. However, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have not endorsed the idea as budget negotiations pick up with the March 11 end of the regular session approaching.

Crist believes the lack of GOP agreement in Tallahassee extends to other issues.

"I believe that there are moderate Republicans that feel stymied in this Legislature and with this current administration," he said.

DiNapoli rejects the notion that there shouldn't be any daylight between Florida Republican lawmakers and the governor.

"It's not surprising that not every Republican might agree with each other on every issue that might pop up in the Legislature," he said. "That's what's called part of the healthy debate."
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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.