Once GOP governor of Florida, Crist launches run as Democrat

He could face stiff competition for Democratic nomination

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who served as Florida governor for a single term before running other offices, is seeking the state’s highest office once again — this time as a Democrat.

After releasing videos Tuesday confirming his candidacy, Christ held an outdoor rally that sought to contrast his record with that of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I’m running so you will be in charge again,” Crist told the crowd at a campaign kickoff rally in St. Petersburg. “No, friends, it will not be easy, but nothing worth doing is.”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, Agricuture Commissionr Nikki Fried and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are frequently mentioned as potential Democratic candidates. There may well be others.

In Tallahassee, Fried told reporters her aim is clear on running for governor, but it’s not quite time to announce anything.

“As the only statewide elected Democrat it makes absolute sense for me to be running for governor. But today is not the day for me to be making this announcement,” Fried said.

Crist has some built-in advantages in terms of name recognition and a strong fund-raising network, said Aubrey Jewett, political science professor at the University of Central Florida.

“He certainly has a shot to win. I’m not sure he will,” Jewett said. “He has been around the block.”

Crist, 64, does have a political resume that’s hard to beat.

Crist served in the state Senate through the 1990s, then decided take on then-U.S. Sen. Bob Graham — one of Florida’s most popular politicians. Crist lost.

After that, he served as state education commissioner, then as Florida attorney general. Next on the list was an unusual three-way race against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010, in which Crist ran as independent. Rubio won re-election.

Then, after becoming a Democrat, Crist lost in 2014 to then-Gov. Rick Scott. Crist has now served three terms in the U.S. House.

In a recent interview, Crist said he has given this latest political foray a lot of thought.

“If you feel up to the task, and people are telling you it’s time, I want to do it,” Crist said.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination for governor will take on DeSantis, who polls show remains popular in Florida. But Crist noted how often Florida statewide races are often settled by mere hundreds or even fewer votes.

“I really am an optimist. There are wins and losses in life,” Crist said “I think people deserve someone who has a servant’s heart.”

DeSantis commented on Crist entering the race during a Tuesday news conference.

“You know, people said Charlie Crist and I was just asking myself, what party is he going to run in this time? I mean, he’s on a Republican, I know, lost before, independent, Democrat. Then I look at his voting record in the Congress. He has voted this Congress with Nancy Pelosi, 100% of the time,” DeSantis said. “He probably could give it a run and be credible with the Green Party even, so who knows. Look, all we’re going to do is continue to lead do a good job for the state.”

Back in 2014, Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, faced off against Scott in a debate moderated by News4Jax anchor Kent Justice.