(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Republican governor and now Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist sparred Monday night in a lively one-hour debate full of personal attacks and interrupted by raucous audience members interjecting jeers and name-calling.
While DeSantis and Crist presented different views on nearly every issue, DeSantis highlighted Florida’s strong economy and pledged to implement permanent tax cuts if elected to a second term.
In nearly every answer, Crist argued he would fight for “the right of women to choose to have an abortion” or claimed that DeSantis was running for president instead of governor.
When asked about the economy and inflation, Crist blamed DeSantis for the price of gas and utilities, saying inflation in Florida was “unique to any other state” and was “too high under [DeSantis’] leadership.”
DeSantis said Crist “voting with Joe Biden” helped raise prices and record-high inflation burdening Floridians. If Florida’s economy was as he claimed, Americans wouldn’t be leaving other states to move to Florida, he argued.
People “flocking to Florida,” DeSantis said, “would not happen if Charlie had his way.”
He said Crist wrote him a letter in July 2020 “saying you need to shut down the state of Florida, saying you need to force people to shelter in their homes. That would have destroyed the state of Florida, that would have caused our tourism industry to go into the toilet, it would’ve locked out millions of kids from school. I rejected Charlie Crist’s lockdown letter. I kept this state open. I kept this state free and we have the biggest budget surplus in the history of the state of Florida.”
DeSantis also highlighted the record $1 billion in tax cuts he and the legislature passed earlier this year; the gas tax holiday currently in effect; another 50% cut in tolls for commuters, which he plans to extend next year; Florida’s historically low unemployment rate, the second-lowest in state history; and the second-fastest GDP growth in the U.S.
DeSantis also pledged to implement permanent tax cuts next year on a range of items including baby clothes, cribs and wipes, among others “so you can raise kids and get by.” His pledge came after he proposed last month to implement another $1.1 billion in tax cuts.
“We have the fifth-lowest gas prices in the country because we did do a gas tax holiday,” the incumbent governor said. “We’re proud of that. What we’re going to do for Floridians who commute is we’re going to reduce tolls by 50% statewide for all commuters.”
Crist said DeSantis should have implemented the tax cuts earlier in his first year in office, adding, “Aren’t you supposed to be helping us all four years instead of just the last year? You talk about Joe Biden a lot. I understand. You think you’re going to be running against him. I can see how you might get confused, but you’re running for governor.”
DeSantis replied the only Democrat he’d be “looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”
Pointing to when Crist ran as a Republican candidate for governor, DeSantis said he pledged to keep taxes down. But when he took office he signed a bill into law enacting one of the largest tax increases in state history. Crist replied saying, “So what we need to do on the economy is make sure we’re focused on Florida.”
Crist said DeSantis “keeps talking about the Biden administration this, the Biden administration that. This is the DeSantis administration. And under the DeSantis administration, the middle class is getting crunched in Florida. You can’t get an apartment, you can’t afford a house, you can’t pay your property insurance because he’s taken his eye off the ball over and over.”
According to a RealClear Politics average of polls, DeSantis is leading Crist by 10 points, up several points from last month.