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Party-switcher Crist decides to make another run for Florida governor

Florida set to gain a House seat next year, but GOP will draw map

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is making another run for Florida's governorship, a job he previously held as a Republican, rather than seeking a fourth House term next year.
Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is making another run for Florida's governorship, a job he previously held as a Republican, rather than seeking a fourth House term next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After winning a third term by defeating a Republican backed by President Donald Trump, Florida Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist said Tuesday he’ll run for governor next year — a job he formerly held as a Republican — rather than try to remain in the House.

Crist wants to take on GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former House member whose handling of COVID-19 has been praised by Trump, now a Florida resident.

“Today, Florida has a governor that’s only focused on his future, not yours,” Crist said in a video released on social media. “While COVID took the lives of 35,000 Floridians, DeSantis attacked doctors and scientists.”  

Crist faces competition for the Democratic nomination, and some candidates are still weighing whether to get into the race, including fellow Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings

Crist’s exit would come as Florida is set to gain a House seat for the 2022 midterm elections, based on the 2020 census. 

But state Republicans, who control the redistricting process, have not yet drawn up the new congressional map, so the dynamics of that district remain uncertain. 

As a Republican governor, Crist embraced then-President Barack Obama at a rally in 2009 to celebrate federal funding for stimulus projects. That sparked a backlash from his fellow Republicans, culminating in Crist’s exit from the GOP during an unsuccessful 2010 Senate campaign; GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who is up for reelection next year, ultimately won that seat.

After switching parties, Crist won the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, but lost to Republican Rick Scott, who is now the state’s junior senator. Crist then won election to the House as a Democrat in 2016, even as Trump carried the state in the presidential race.

Crist won his third House term in November by 6 percentage points, down from 15 points in 2018 but an improvement over his first victory in 2016, when he ousted GOP Rep. David Jolly by 3 points.

The GOP-controlled redistricting of the state’s House seats may have factored into Crist’s decision. 

“I think any incumbent on the Democratic side might be thinking about alternatives, because surely there is going to be some partisan map-drawing in the near future,” said Sam Wang, a professor at Princeton University who directs the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. “Some of them have to survive, but the question is which ones.”  

Numerous potential candidates have nevertheless signaled their interest in running for the House seat. On the Republican side, 2018 nominee Anna Paulina Luna announced Monday that she would run again. And her primary rival Amanda Makki hedged when asked by the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week if they planned to run again, but “sounded positive about the prospect,” the paper reported.  

Luna, an air force veteran, won the crowded GOP primary for the seat in 2020 after her fiery support for Trump attracted the backing of his Florida surrogates, including Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. Makki, a lawyer, health care lobbyist and former Hill staffer, ran on a more center-right platform with the support of national Republican leaders. 

Potential Democratic candidates include State Rep. Ben Diamond and former national security adviser Eric Lynn, according to media reports. 

On 1,573 votes cast since he came to Congress in 2017, Crist voted against the position taken by a majority of Democrats 93 times, giving him a 91 percent party unity score on CQ Vote Watch. That’s below the average for all Democrats that year, but puts him roughly in the middle of the caucus.

On voting for or against the position of the president, so far this year he has voted in line with President Joe Biden’s position an 83 percent of the time, compared with 82 percent for the average Democrat. During President Donald Trump’s four years in office, he supported Trump’s position 20 percent of the time.

His scores were higher than the average Democrats’ in Trump’s first two years in office, when the GOP controlled the House, than in the last two years, when Democrats had control.

Ratings for bipartisanship during the 2019-2020 term released this week by the Lugar Center at Georgetown University ranked Crist 87th out of 437 House members.

Stephanie Akin and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.

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