DeSantis, Crist trade barbs over lockdowns, education in Florida gubernatorial debate

The RealClearPolitics polling average currently shows the governor with a 10.0% lead over his indirect predecessor.

Updated: October 24, 2022 - 8:21pm

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Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday sparred with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist over his COVID-19 policies in the state's gubernatorial debate.

Fielding a question on rising housing costs, Crist said that his opponent was too busy "running for president," before proposing the return of a housing affordability fund that the legislature had ended. DeSantis retorted that Crist voted with Biden "100% of the time" and touted his refusal to lock down the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pair then traded jabs over the pandemic. Crist called DeSantis's claim to have not locked down schools "rich." "You're the only governor in our state's history to lock down our schools," he said. "You don't just shut down at the outset" and then end the lockdown when "politically convenient." DeSantis pointed to a letter Crist sent to him advocating for stricter lockdown policies as a rebuttal.

Cost of living in Florida has skyrocketed, the moderators noted, attributing it to the swarm of people moving to the state under DeSantis's leadership. Crist repeatedly attempted to pin the blame on DeSantis for rising costs of energy and property insurance. DeSantis insisted that the Biden energy policy was driving up energy costs and derided the administration for reaching out to OPEC+ and Venezuela to meet the country's energy needs instead of producing energy domestically.

On Hurricane Ian, Crist slammed DeSantis for presiding over the deadliest storm in the state's history and said the governor was missing in action for 24 hours in the lead-up to the storm's landfall. The governor, in turn, touted the relief efforts he oversaw and the pre-landfall preparations the state made. He further alleged that Crist's campaign sought donations from storm victims and that Crist spent the storm "hiding out in Puerto Rico."

Addressing inflation, DeSantis highlighted the state's "largest budget surplus in history" and said it would help fund large-scale tax cuts in the state. Crist retorted that DeSantis should have passed such tax cuts the year prior, to which DeSantis replied that Crist had passed the state's largest tax increase.

The debate then shifted to education. Moderators focused on the Parental Rights in Education Act and the Stop WOKE Act. Crist fielded questions on the DeSantis education agenda, which he said had made schools a "political war zone." DeSantis stood by his record on school administration and pointed to Crist's opposition to the bills. He asserted that teaching eight-year-olds that they may have been born in the wrong body was "inappropriate" and that Crist was "waging the culture war" by opposing his bills.

Critical Race Theory was then featured in the debate. DeSantis said that Florida statutes required "teaching all of American history, including slavery," which he supported. "I'm proud of our history. I don't want to teach kids to hate our country," he said. Crist responded "we ought to teach facts in our schools."

Originally scheduled for Oct. 12, the approaching of Hurricane Ian forced a postponement. The storm has been a test of DeSantis's leadership, though the recovery effort has constantly placed him in the media spotlight, while simultaneously sidelining his opponent, who did not have to preside over a comparable disaster. The RealClearPolitics polling average currently shows the governor with a 10.0% lead over his indirect predecessor.

Crist is seeking a return to the governor's mansion, having previously served in the role from 2007-2011, mostly as a Republican. After losing the Republican primary for the 2010 Senate race, he became an independent and launched a third-party bid for the seat, ultimately losing to now Sen. Marco Rubio, R. He subsequently became a Democrat and secured election to the House.