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Crist Criticizes DeSantis as Florida Leads in COVID Cases

Charlie Crist, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis for his recent visit to the Texas border while the state’s COVID-19 test positivity rate has nearly tripled in the last three weeks.

(TNS) — Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist attacked Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday, accusing him of playing Republican presidential politics on the Texas border — while COVID-19 infections rising and people are dying in Florida.

During a campaign appearance in Broward County, Crist pointed to the recent increase in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. “You know what’s happening. We have gone to the top. And it is a dubious distinction,” he said. “And why is that? Because we don’t have leadership.”

Crist then dialed up the rhetoric before several hundred people at the Deerfield Beach Democratic Club.

“What’s he [DeSantis] doing about it? He’s going to Texas. He goes to the border. Texas. You’re the governor of Florida, you know,” Crist said. “He doesn’t understand. And you know he’s spending our tax dollars out there giving our law enforcement to Texas while people are dying in Florida. Unbelievable.”

Crist was referring to DeSantis’ decision to send Florida law enforcement personnel to help patrol the Texas border, a move that infuriated Democrats, who consider it a political stunt. On July 17, DeSantis followed up by leading a Florida delegation to Texas for a “border security briefing.”

Meanwhile, Florida leads the nation in COVID-19 infections as the Delta variant affects the unvaccinated. On Friday, the state reported a weekly total of 73,199 infections. Three weeks ago, the weekly total of new cases was 15,978. The test positivity rate increased to 15.1 percent, up from 5.2 percent three weeks ago.

DeSantis, up for re-election in 2022 and expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, has sought to brand himself as the potential candidate most closely aligned with former President Donald Trump — in both style and substance — with priorities that appeal to the Republican base in Florida and the rest of the country.

He has touted Florida as an “oasis of freedom” from coronavirus restrictions and his campaign website is selling merchandise proclaiming “Don’t Fauci My Florida” and “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

Democrats have consistently faulted his approach. Social media critics refer to him as “DeathSantis.”

“I love Florida. I love her with all my heart,” Crist said. “Florida’s special. This current governor is running for president. He’s treating Florida like she’s a stepping stone. Florida is special. She is not a stepping stone.”

On Sunday, Crist renewed criticisms from the early days of vaccine availability, accusing DeSantis of prioritizing protecting the wealthy and campaign contributors. DeSantis has vigorously denied any politics in decision-making, saying his central goal was getting vaccines to the state’s older, most vulnerable residents as quickly as possible.

“You’ve got to be white, Republican and rich to get a vaccine from Ron,” Crist asserted. “Unbelievable. And that’s the kind of leadership we have. Is that ethical? Is that fair? Is that Just. It is not. You deserve better.”

Crist said DeSantis should be constantly promoting vaccines and other ways to prevent the spread of the virus. “People need to be informed about getting vaccinated over and over and over again. And wearing masks inside when we’re inside and we’re close.”

The Deerfield Beach Democratic Club attracted several hundred people for what former Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar said was the largest indoor party event since the start of the pandemic.

Centers for Disease Control guidelines say people who are vaccinated don’t have to wear masks, and many who attended the event at the Century Village condominium community weren’t masked.

Crist wore a mask while he worked the crowd, shaking hands, hugging and taking selfies with attendees. He took off the mask for a 10-minute speech, with a large separation between him and the audience.

Later, when club leaders presented him with a birthday cake — Crist turned 65 on Saturday — he pulled down his mask to blow out two candles.

Republican Response

“Governor DeSantis is successfully defending the interests of Florida residents and his only goal is to lead Republicans to a resounding victory in the Sunshine State 2022,” Helen Aguirre Ferré, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, said Sunday via text message. “Thanks to Governor DeSantis, Florida is booming as a free and open state and the number of residents from other states who are calling Florida home agree with his policies.”

Ferré said DeSantis “has ensured the safety of our elderly residents first with vaccination programs that prioritized their needs. Vaccination sites and private sector facilities have ensured that all who want to be vaccinated can receive the vaccine. If you are fully vaccinated without underlying health issues, you have almost zero chance of dying from Covid, something that forced masking and government forced lockdowns can’t do. "

She said Crist “doesn’t recognize open borders as a danger to Florida which is no surprise because he ignores the rule of law which is dangerous.” And, Ferré said, with 70 percent of those crossing the border intending to come to Florida, DeSantis’ actions are protecting the state’s residents from organized crime, human trafficking, illegal arms, and dangerous drugs like fentanyl.

“To say focusing on public safety is wasting taxpayer dollars should disqualify Charlie from living off the public dime,” Ferré said.

Trademark Crist

Crist also said DeSantis is trying to trick people into thinking he supports public education through the distribution of $1,000 bonuses for schoolteachers, something he ridiculed as a “$1,000 tip.”

“Governor, if you really love teachers and you really respect what they do, then give them a raise,” he said. “They deserve a raise. It’s called r-e-s-p-e-c-t.”

Many of Crist’s remarks Sunday were vintage Crist: “It’s great to be in beautiful Broward,” “I want to remember my dear friend [the late] Alcee Hastings…. I miss him dearly. I miss him every day.” “You remember Barack Obama. I love him.”

Elected officials and candidates from throughout Broward attended the event. Max Flugrath, communications director for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried, said she had a commitment elsewhere and couldn’t attend the Deerfield Beach event.

Crist served as the Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 before becoming a Democrat, losing a 2014 attempt to win back the governor’s office, and winning election to a St. Petersburg-based congressional seat three times.

He had lots of fans in Deerfield Beach. “He was our favorite Republican governor,” said Daphne Edwards of Lauderdale Lakes. “We love Charlie,” said Rosemary Cowan of Tamarac.

And Bernie Parness, a long time Democratic leader and Deerfield Beach city commissioner, praised Crist.

“Right now, I think he’s the best candidate. I haven’t heard anyone more intelligent or [who] has a better grasp of the issues facing Florida,” Parness said. Unless someone changes his mind, “I’m for Charlie 150 percent.”

©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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