ST. PETERSBURG — Fifteen years after voters elected him to the office as a Republican, 11 years after leaving it in an unsuccessful Independent bid for U.S. Senate and seven years after his comeback attempt as a Democrat fell short, Charlie Crist announced Tuesday he will once again seek his old job as Florida governor.
Crist, elected in November to a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he grew convinced in recent months that Tallahassee and the governor’s mansion is where he could do “the most good.”
“We need to stop the division and hate, bring our state together,” Crist told several dozen supporters gathered under a blistering sun in South St. Petersburg. “You deserve jobs you can live on, housing you can afford and justice that’s equal.”
So begins the long, uphill road for Democrats as they try to find a candidate who can defeat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022. Crist is the first Democrat to officially jump in, but his announcement had the effect of rattling a handful of publicly undecided prospective candidates. Several now appear closer to making that call.
One of them, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, stole some spotlight from Crist on Tuesday, rolling out a campaign-style video that appeared to hype a looming announcement. It highlighted the recent buzz surrounding her rise from Orlando Police Chief to potential running mate for Joe Biden. “Ready for the moment,” she wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has long been expected to run for governor herself, held a news conference in Tallahassee where she essentially laid out how she plans to challenge DeSantis, if she were to enter the race.
Sporting a “Nice Jewish Girl” face mask, Fried cast DeSantis as an “authoritarian” who has crafted a legislative agenda aimed less at the needs of Floridians and more at his own political aspirations.
But Fried did not provide a timeline on her potential run. She said she is “having final conversations” with family and friends and gauging support among constituents.
When it comes to Crist, Fried said he is better off staying in Congress. By running for governor, Crist’s Pinellas County seat becomes open just as Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee prepare to draw new congressional maps that could boost their party’s majority representation in the House of Representatives.
Two Democrats weighing bids to replace Crist — state Rep. Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn, a former Pentagon under President Barack Obama — attended the event Tuesday. Crist’s 2020 challenger, Republican Anna Paulina Luna, has said she intends to run. And former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who preceded Crist in Washington, said he may jump back into politics as an independent to run for his old seat.