TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Five days until the Democratic primary for governor, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., will tell you he is the best bet to oust Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.
Crist is a former governor himself and said he has the support, the strategy and the experience to make it happen. But on the campaign trail, some of his past positions continue to dog him ahead of next Tuesday.
Earlier this week, the Crist campaign gave Capital reporter Forrest Saunders about 20 minutes to chat with the candidate on numerous topics, from his record on abortion, policy goals and plan to take back the governor's office— a strategy Floridians have seen before.
So how does a former Republican, who hasn't won statewide office since 2006, unite Democrats and beat a popular GOP incumbent?
"Just tell people what's on my heart," Crist said.
Crist said, in simple terms, he's fighting DeSantis' divisive language and "culture wars" with a sense of civility. It's why he wears yellow wristbands emblazoned with "The Golden Rule."
"Do unto others as you would have done unto you," Crist said. "If Gov. DeSantis ever knew the golden rule, he's clearly forgotten it because he's doing to others."
If the tactic sounds familiar, it is. President Joe Biden used a similar strategy to defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020. His message of unity targeted moderate Republicans and independents sick of division.
But there's just one problem — Biden lost Florida by more than 3 points.
"Well, 2020 was a different time," Crist said. "We were at the height of the pandemic. We really couldn't have a ground game, get out the vote. We have an opportunity to do that now, thank God that this thing is really getting behind us a bit … and I love Joe Biden. I think he's a great man and I think he's a great president. But Joe's not from Florida."
That may be, but Crist's primary opponent, Nikki Fried, is from Florida. She now serves as the state's commissioner of agriculture and has trailed in funding, endorsements and most polls. Yet, Fried continues to throw punches at Crist's past, suggesting Democrats can't trust Crist, especially on abortion.
Her online and TV ads reflect that strategy. One, in particular, features a video clip of Crist repeatedly saying he's "pro-life."
"Do you still consider yourself pro-life?" Saunders asked.
"I'm for life, aren't you?" Crist answered. "We all are. I've been pro-choice in every single decision I've made that affects a women's right to choose."
Crist touts killing anti-abortion bills during his time in state government. He's also proud of his 100% rating in Congress from groups like Planned Parenthood. The congressman said he wants to sign an executive order on day one to protect abortion in Florida and believes his record is "crystal clear," despite calling himself "pro-life."
"For most people, that means you support anti-abortion measures," Saunders said. "That's what most people would say."
"I'm not most people," Crist said.
"Right, so how would you define it?" Saunders asked.
"Well, I am who I am and I define it how I define it," Crist said. "I am for life. I hope we're all for life. Maybe Vladimir Putin is not for life, but I think most people — most human beings — are."
Beyond abortion, Crist has several big goals — boost teacher pay across the board, repeal new laws regulating race and LGBTQ+ education, drive down costs for housing and property insurance. There's something else, too.
"I think we ought to have recreational marijuana legal statewide," Crist said. "And expunge the records of those who had minor amounts of possession so that their records are clear and do the right thing in our criminal justice system."
Many of those goals might be hard to accomplish. Even if Crist gets into the governor's mansion, he'll likely still face a GOP-controlled legislature.
In his words, he is David fighting Goliath. But, Crist noted, "David won."
"I don't think this is an election, frankly, that's about right versus left," Crist said. "It's about right versus wrong. I know it is. I know it's what the people of Florida are frustrated about with this governor right now. I know they deserve better."
Like the Fried campaign, Crist will spend the remaining days of the race traveling the state. He's also looking ahead, planning a $20 million media blitz for the general election if he wins the primary next Tuesday.