DeSantis, Crist shake hands after name calling, sparks flying in Fla. gubernatorial debate

(As originally published with bells and whistles, Mon, October 24th 2022, 6:45 PM EDT)

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (CBS12) — The name-calling started early in the only debate between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s running for reelection, and Charlie Crist, who wants to unseat him in two weeks.

The tough talk started when Crist — a former Republican governor now running as a Democrat — jabbed DeSantis on whether he’ll stay in the Florida governor’s mansion for four years, until 2026, or leave to run for the White House in just two years.

“You’re running for governor and I have a question for you,” Crist announced. “You’re running for governor. Why don’t you look into the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them, if you’re reelected, you’ll serve a full four-year term as governor, yes or no? Yes or no, Ron? Will you serve a full four-year term if you’re reelected governor of Florida? It’s not a tough question. It’s a fair question. He won’t tell you.”

DeSantis responded with a right hook.

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“Well, listen. I know that Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make things very, very clear,” DeSantis said. “The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”

Crist replied, “Well, Ron. We know you love to bully people and the little name-calling you just exchanged. I can take it. But you shouldn’t do it when children are standing behind you at a press conference and they’re wearing a mask. You give them hell, but really, that’s your nature and that’s too bad.”

The salvo came about four questions into the hour-long debate.

Crist repeatedly highlighted DeSantis’ opposition to abortion rights, seizing on the law he signed in April banning abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. DeSantis declined to answer a question from the moderator — CBS12’s own Liz Quirantes — about whether he supports a complete abortion ban.

“You deserve a better governor who cares about freedom and your right to choose,” Crist said.

The two hit on inflation, which DeSantis called the effect of the Biden-Crist policies. To fight it, DeSantis said he plans to reduce tolls for Floridians and make baby items and pet food sales tax-free.

Crist charged that DeSantis closed businesses and schools across the state early on during the pandemic and then ignored science by opening them too soon, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

“You’re the only governor in the history of Florida that ever shut down our schools,” Crist said. “You’re the one who’s the shutdown guy.”

DeSantis lashed back: “I kept the state open and I kept the state free,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and challenger Charlie Crist end their tough-talk debate with a handshake, Oct. 24, 2022. (WPEC)

DeSantis also blamed President Biden for the crisis at the southern border. He blamed it for drug smuggling, which kills people in the U.S., as he has done before.

Then, Crist said there has been more crime with DeSantis as governor, while there was less crime when he served, from 2007 to 2011.

DeSantis responded by accusing Crist of wanting to spend less money on law enforcement, which Crist denied.

Plus, the candidates touched on lessons learned from Hurricane Ian, which barreled into southwest Florida last month, killing at least 72 people.

The first two questions focused on housing and the home insurance crisis.

Crist won the coin toss and took the first question.

Crist said Gov. DeSantis took “his eye off the ball” on the housing crisis because he’s focusing on his ultimate goal: running for president. Gov. DeSantis said inflation is at 40-year highs and blamed Crist for voting with President Biden 100 percent of the time.

Four years ago, DeSantis became Florida governor by just 32,000 votes out of 8.2 million cast. If he wins this race, there’s speculation he could launch a presidential bid in the coming months.

Already, after the first day of early voting in parts of the state, more than 1.1 million votes have been cast. That’s the most in the nation.

DeSantis, a Republican, gained popularity since becoming governor in early 2019. He campaigns on “freedom,” including coming out against Covid-19 restrictions, and the state’s budget surplus. DeSantis has also led the nation on several divisive cultural issues, from schools to law enforcement to supposed “woke” corporations such as Disney. He’s a staunch critic of President Joe Biden and flew migrants from Venezuela to Martha’s Vineyard.

Crist has been Florida governor before, from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican. His main issues are reproductive freedom, the cost of living, voting rights and climate change, according to his campaign website. Another major one is defeating DeSantis, who he has called “a spineless, wannabe dictator” with a “hateful” agenda.

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There are now more registered Republicans than registered Democrats in Florida. That change happened on DeSantis’ watch.

Also, according to The Associated Press, Republicans and Democrats privately agree Hurricane Ian may have helped DeSantis broaden his appeal.

DeSantis, 44, was born in Jacksonville and served with the U.S. Navy in Iraq. He was elected to three terms in Congress before running for governor and is considered a possible 2024 presidential candidate.

Crist, 66, lives in St. Petersburg. He was also elected to three terms in Congress. Crist served as Florida attorney general and education commissioner before becoming governor.

Election Day will be in two weeks, on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Click here for details on voting by mail and early voting for your South Florida county.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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