Oct 25, 2022 - Politics

Rowdy crowd dominates Charlie Crist and Ron DeSantis' only debate

Photo illustration of Charlie Crist, tinted blue, and Ron DeSantis, tinted red, separated by a white halftone divider.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Thomas Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images and Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The two men who want to be Florida's next governor tried to set themselves apart on a stage in downtown Fort Pierce Monday night, but the audience was the big winner.

What happened: The crowd routinely dominated the candidates' only debate, at times applauding Charlie Crist over a struck-looking Gov. Ron DeSantis' remarks.

  • At others, clapping for DeSantis' accusatory statements about Crist — like that Crist sides with President Joe Biden on progressive issues — made it difficult for audience members and at-home watchers to hear.
  • A heckler in the crowd yelled "liar" once during DeSantis' answers.

The big picture: The one-hour debate featured a polished and tanned Crist, the 66-year-old former Florida governor and U.S. congressman, against rising-star DeSantis, 44, who tried again and again to cast the race in national terms.

  • DeSantis criticized "Biden-Crist" policies at least six times in reference to federal legislation, and addressed several policies and incidents far outside the Sunshine State.

The intrigue: Crist twice asked DeSantis whether he would promise to serve as Florida governor for a full four-year term and vow not to run for U.S. president in 2024, but DeSantis would not directly answer the question.

The rub: Both parties agreed before the debate not to ask each other questions.

What he said: "The only worn-out old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist," DeSantis said.

State of play: DeSantis leads Crist in polls, including recent Florida Atlantic University polling that puts the governor 11 percentage points ahead of Crist, with an improved favorability rating since Hurricane Ian.

  • The same survey of 719 Floridians showed inflation was the most important issue to voters.

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