With the gubernatorial election just days away, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has opened up a double-digit lead over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
After their only debate on Monday Oct. 24, DeSantis holds an edge of 11.2 points against Crist (52.2% – 41%), according to the survey average compiled by RealClearPolitics.com. During their hour-long face off in Fort Pierce, the candidates battled over abortion, education, transgender treatments for minors, the COVID-19 response and immigration.
DeSantis also maintains a massive fundraising and cash-on-hand advantage over his rival in the final stage of the contest.
Many political observers expect DeSantis, 44, to soon launch a bid for the White House if he wins a second term on Nov. 8. Speculation about a bid for the presidency followed DeSantis onto the debate stage when Crist demanded he “look into the eyes” of Floridians and commit to serving a full four-year term as governor if re-elected. The governor remained silent.
A recent poll found that Florida Republicans say they prefer DeSantis over Trump for president in 2024, although nationally Trump remains the favorite of GOP voters and DeSantis comes in second.
This is Crist’s third run for Florida governor and second as a Democrat. He was a Republican when he served as governor from 2007 to 2011. When he left the GOP in 2010, he said it was due to the party moving too far right. He ran again unsuccessfully in 2014 as a Democrat. Crist, 66, later served as a representative for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which covers the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, before resigning to campaign for governor.
DeSantis is a former officer in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps who still serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He is also an ex-federal prosecutor and from 2012 to 2018, he represented Florida’s 6th Congressional District, on the state’s eastern coast..
Hurricane Ian put DeSantis in the spotlight after many praised his response to the devastating storm — even President Joe Biden. “I think he’s done a good job,” Biden said. “We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove.”
DeSantis also signed an executive order to extend early voting for those most impacted by the hurricane. The much-publicized recovery efforts gave DeSantis a boost, while Crist has focused his closing message on the promise to protect abortion access and reproductive rights.
The Crist campaign launched “Choice Day of Action” on Oct. 11 in which Crist and his running mate, Karla Hernández, engaged in eight statewide events about access to abortion. The campaign also released two new ads and 26 billboards throughout Florida that reinforce his support for abortion rights.
Earlier this year, DeSantis signed into law a measure that bans abortions after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest.
DeSantis has sprioritized education issues by focusing on parental rights, increasing teacher pay and advocating for school security and mental health support. However, he received backlash on the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits discussion of gender and sexuality in certain grades.
Crist called the law “bigoted and homophobic” in a tweet. “This is unacceptable and we need to defeat him,” he said. Crist has said that he will sign a non-discrimination executive order on his first day as governor to protect LGBTQ Floridians, covering sexual orientation and gender identity. He would also work to repeal DeSantis’ “Parental Rights Education” bill.
The governor recently came under attack for flying about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, which Crist blessed as a “premeditated crime.” DeSantis said he did so to draw attention to the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the pandemic, the governor also faced criticism regarding his COVID-19 response in which he prioritized protection of seniors but ended the lockdown earlier than most other states to keep businesses open and allow students to return to school in person.
“In Florida, we told the truth, we let the data drive our response, and we let Floridians make decisions for themselves and their children,” said DeSantis. “As a result, Florida is in a better spot than states who used fear-mongering and mandates,” continued DeSantis.
As for the housing crisis, DeSantis approved $100 million for The Hometown Hero Housing plan, which launched this year on June 1, to provide relief, but the governor hasn’t made much of it during the campaign. In contrast, Crist has zeroed in on the affordability issue and outlined a three-point plan including cracking down on tenant abuse and illegal housing practices and bringing down property insurance costs.
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