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DeSantis and Crist clash on abortion and economics in their first, and only, gubernatorial debate

Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist participate in a debate in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. (Crystal Vander Weit/TCPalm.com via AP, Pool)
Pool TCPalm.com
Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist participate in a debate in Fort Pierce, Fla., Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. (Crystal Vander Weit/TCPalm.com via AP, Pool)

In front of a rowdy crowd, Congressman Charlie Crist and Gov. Ron DeSantis took opposite positions on everything from the culture wars to gender-affirming care to abortion. But the biggest issue likely weighing on voters ahead of Election Day is the economy.

“When Charlie Crist was governor he ran saying he would not raise taxes, and he signed off on the largest increase in taxes and fees in the history of Florida,” DeSantis said of Crist’s time in the governor’s mansion, which coincided with the start of the Great Recession in 2007.

DeSantis has blamed current economic woes and high inflation on the Biden administration but Crist argues the failure is closer to home.

“Under the DeSantis administration the middle class is getting crunched in Florida,” he said. “You can’t get an apartment, you can’t afford a house and you can’t pay your property insurance because he’s taken his eye off the ball over and over again.”

Among what Crist views as DeSantis’ failures? The state’s troubled property insurance market has driven the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corporation to well over a million policies. It’s a looming threat to Florida’s long-term fiscal health because the state is now using Citizens as a backstop to reassure struggling private insurance companies that their losses will be covered if they run out of money during a natural disaster. DeSantis himself inadvertently acknowledged the danger while pushing back on Crist and blaming the instability on litigation costs.

“It’s undercapitalized,” DeSantis said of Citizens. “Citizens has mandatory assessment authority. So, there could be a storm that hits Tampa Bay. Maybe you’re renting a place in Miami with a car. They can assess your homeowner’s insurance, your auto insurance, and your renter's insurance.”

DeSantis has called for yet another special session of the legislature later this year to address Hurricane Ian issues and take another stab at stabilizing the property insurance market.

Earlier this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to abortion and returned the issue to the states, Democrats saw it as a boon for their party. Since then, Florida has passed a 15-week abortion limit, and DeSantis has remained mum on further restrictions, even as speculation grows that he’ll push for a full ban with no exceptions. The governor side-stepped the question.

“I just think we’re better when everyone counts,” DeSantis said. “I understand that not everyone is born under perfect circumstances but I would like to see everyone have a shot. I’m proud of the 15 weeks that we did. I know Charlie Crist opposes that.”

Crist highlighted a recent case of an incest victim in Florida who had to travel out of state for an abortion. “Because of the bill you signed governor, she had to go 2-3 states to take care of this issue. That’s not compassionate leadership. That’s not doing the right thing. That’s not even having a heart.

That’s callous, it’s barbaric and it’s wrong. Florida deserves better. And if you want better, I hope you vote like hell.”

One of the most pointed exchanges between the two candidates occurred when Crist directly asked DeSantis whether he would serve a full four-year term if he won re-election. DeSantis is widely seen as a potential 2024 presidential contender.

“Why you don’t look into the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them if you’re reelected that you’ll serve a full, four-year term. Yes or no, Ron?” Crist asked. A long pause ensued before the moderator interjected that the candidates did not agree to ask each other direct questions. DeSantis did eventually answer, but not directly.

“The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”

The only place of semi-agreement between the two was on whether the Parkland school shooter deserved the death penalty. A jury recently determined a sentence of life in prison.

The debate likely changed no minds ahead of election day. Crist has been trailing DeSantis in fundraising, spending, and in most polls.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.