Crist challenges DeSantis to more debates; governor fundraising off his performance

By: - October 25, 2022 3:19 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist held their only debate Oct. 24 in Fort Pierce. (DeSantis photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Cris photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Democrat Charlie Crist, buoyed by what supporters saw as a strong debate performance against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is now calling upon the governor to agree to two more of the contests.

In a written statement, Crist noted that he had originally challenged DeSantis to three meetings but that DeSantis had agreed to just one, which was broadcast on Monday evening by WPEC, owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“With the unanswered questions from Ron DeSantis piling up, it’s time for DeSantis to face Floridians with honest answers,” the statement reads.

“One hour was apparently not enough time for Ron DeSantis to answer some simple questions, like whether he will stay in the job for four years and whether he will ban abortion outright,” Crist said in the statement. “I know he had a rough night, but I’m happy to give him a do-over because the people of Florida deserve to hear him answer those questions.”

Fundraising pitch

DeSantis said nothing about his performance during an appearance Tuesday in Avon Park to announce $9 million in grants to finance workforce education for students pursuing careers in law enforcement, nursing, health care, and education.

The money will flow through South Florida State College, serving DeSoto, Hardee, and Highland counties; St. Petersburg College, serving Pinellas County; and Daytona State College, serving Flagler and Volusia counties; all suffered damage during Hurricane Ian.

DeSantis took no questions from the press.

However, the DeSantis campaign was attempting to raise money off his own performance, claiming in an emailed solicitation that the governor “swept the floor” with Crist.

DeSantis had accused Crist of being soft on crime and immigration enforcement and insisted that his COVID policies preserved Florida’s economy and boosted parents’ rights.

“On every point, Gov. DeSantis took a torch to Charlie’s smoke and mirrors charade — exposing him for the career politician crook that he is,” the campaign wrote in the email sent at around noon on Tuesday.

“On par with the rest of his campaign, Charlie’s messages on the stage lacked facts, substance, and logic. He did plenty of fabricating, but when Gov. DeSantis held his feet to the fire, Charlie crumbled under the pressure and exposed his inability to muster even one truthful statement,” the message continued (emphasis in the original).

During the debate, Crist — who served as a Republican education commissioner, attorney general, and governor before winning election as a Democrat to the U.S. House — accused DeSantis of stoking culture war controversies including abortion, trans rights, immigration, and COVID policies to grease a potential campaign for the White House in two years.

‘Deer in the headlights’

DeSantis refused to answer when Crist asked him directly whether he could commit to serving a full, four-year term as governor. During an appearance by Crist Tuesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” commented on the exchange.

“He looked like a deer in the headlight when you asked that question,” Scarborough (a former Republican congressman from the western Panhandle-turned-independent) said.

Also on Tuesday, the DeSantis campaign released endorsements of the governor signed by 36 self-described former aides and colleagues of Crist’s.

“We are well-qualified to endorse in the Florida governor’s race because we have significant experience in public service to the state of Florida. The choice this November could not be more clear: We unanimously endorse Gov. Ron DeSantis for re-election,” they wrote.

The signatories include former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, former Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, former Attorney General Bill McCollum, former Senate President Ken Pruitt, and former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

They also include participants in the DeSantis administration such as legislative director Stephanie Kopelousos, Secretary of Economic Opportunity Dane Eagle.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.