By Jim Ellis
May 6, 2021 — US representative and former Florida governor, Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg), announced this week that he will again run for the state’s top elected post, which appears to be influencing an interesting series of political maneuvers.
His candidacy declaration video, which included attacking incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as “a governor that’s only focused on his future and not yours” – an interesting line of attack for a person who has run 11 times for six different offices under three political party designations over a span of 28 years – spurred the Republican governor and potential Democratic opponents to respond.
Answering a reporter’s question about Crist’s candidacy, Gov. DeSantis retorted as noted in the Tampa Bay Times, “which party is he going to run under? Do we even know for sure? He has run as a Republican, lost; independent, lost; Democrat lost. But now I see he’s voting with (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time, he could probably give it a run for the Green Party in San Francisco,” the governor concluded.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) made several statements indicating that she is highly likely to enter the governor’s race but would do so at a still unspecified time. She also said that Rep. Crist should remain in Congress, “where his voice is needed.”
US Rep. Val Demings (D-Orlando), another potential gubernatorial candidate, also released her own video message this week extolling her career and ideals. The video did not specify that she would declare for governor since her congressional campaign committee paid for the production. The release timing, however, suggests that her intention is to eventually enter the governor’s race.
State Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) indicated last week that he, too, would enter the governor’s race unless Rep. Demings decided to run statewide. If so, then he would opt to run for her open Orlando area congressional seat.
If Reps. Crist and Demings were to leave the House, it would give the Republican map drawers – the GOP controls both houses of the Florida legislature and the governor’s office – much greater leeway in crafting the new congressional map once they receive the state data from the US Census Bureau.
Rep. Crist’s Pinellas County district, which contains his home city of St. Petersburg, is one of the most competitive CDs in the state, as Fried mentioned in her comments and further underscored in her encouragement for the congressman to remain in his current position. The Florida State Supreme Court altered the FL-13 seat in the Justices’ 2015 redistricting order to make it more winnable for a Democrat, which allowed Crist to win a close 2016 election against then-Republican incumbent David Jolly.
Without Crist in the congressional picture, the Republicans will find it easier to draw the 13th District with more favorable territory for their eventual nominee. Anna Paulina Luna, the Republicans’ 2020 nominee who spent over $3.2 million and held Rep. Crist to a 53-47 percent victory, quickly responded that she would run for the newly open seat.
Though Florida is only getting one new district in reapportionment as opposed to the expected two, a new CD will still likely fall into the Orlando area. If Rep. Demings does not run for re-election and chooses to run for governor, it would allow the GOP another opportunity of potentially drawing an additional seat more favorable to a Republican candidate than the current Orlando area map yields.
Charlie Crist started his political career in 1992 with his election to the state Senate. He served two terms, and then ran unsuccessfully as the 1998 Republican nominee against then-Sen. Bob Graham (D), losing by almost 25 points. He returned two years later to become state Education Commissioner. Two years later, Crist was elected state attorney general, and four years after that, governor.
Announcing for the Senate in 2010 instead of running for re-election, it became evident early that he would lose the Republican primary to then-state Rep. Marco Rubio. Crist opted instead to run under the Independent label, thus advancing directly into the general election. He finished second to now Sen. Rubio by 19 percentage points. He returned in 2014 as a Democrat to again run for governor, this time losing a close general election to incumbent Rick Scott (R). Crist was subsequently elected to the House in 2016 and subsequently re-elected in both 2018 and 2020.
If Rep. Crist were to leave Congress, it would create 16 vacant or open US House seats, eight from each party. Should Rep. Demings soon announce for governor, her 10th District would become the ninth vacant or open Democratic seat heading into what promises to be a difficult re-election cycle for the majority party.