Monday night brought a particularly raucous and poorly-controlled debate between Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and his Democratic opponent, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), who, until he resigned a few months ago, served in Congress. The debate was put on by WFLA, a local Tampa outlet.
The audience members supporting both sides, though mostly those in support of Crist, applauded out of turn. Crist's supporters also were allowed to boo and even heckle DeSantis. Crist himself even broke debate rules by asking DeSantis to commit to sharing whether or not he would run for president in 2024.
.@GovRonDeSantis on whether or not he's running for president in 2024:— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) October 24, 2022
"I know that Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden. But I just want to make things very, very clear, the only worn-out, old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist." pic.twitter.com/Hl26JtT7TJ
While DeSantis did not answer the question, he did take advantage of Crist providing him with a memorable line, which highlighted his priority in being at the debate that night to run against Crist for governor. "Listen, I know that Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden. But I just want to make things very, very clear, the only worn-out, old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist," he said to applause after confirming with the moderator that it was his time to speak.
Despite the moderator reminding Crist that for candidates to ask each other questions was against the rules, Crist kept at it. He was even reminded that their campaigns both agreed to not engage in such a way. DeSantis for his part did not break the rules in such a way.
In addition to bringing up 2024 throughout the debate, Crist had even more of a habit of bringing up abortion, which he framed as "a right to choose." He even did so in his first response, in answering a question that was on the economy, specifically about rising housing costs and how to ensure "affordable housing is available to everyone."
Crist began by offering "you're going to see a stark contrast in this election," specifically when it comes to "somebody who believes in a woman's right to choose." As he went on to call this so-called right "fundamentally important" though, he was cut off by raucous applause from the audience, for not the first or last time that night.
He then bashed Gov. DeSantis for having "signed a bill that would restrict that right, even in cases of rape or incest," before acknowledging what the question was and offering "housing is an incredible issue as well." Part of his response, though, involved his other pet issue, of accusing DeSantis of "taking his eye off the ball" and being "focused on running for president for 2024," leading to a loss in state budget.
During the back-and-forth for the early questions, Crist had a bizarre moment where he referred to DeSantis as "the only governor in the history of Florida who has shut down our schools, the only governor in the history of Florida who shut down our businesses." DeSantis is known for a parental rights' advocate when it comes to opening schools back up promptly and allowing parents to decide whether their children will wear masks or not. Crist then touted how "I never did that as governor," and claimed that DeSantis re-opened schools for "political points." His answer was partially hard to hear during an audience that was, once again, impossible to control.
Crist has been a Republican, as well as an Independent, and now a Democrat. He served as governor from 2007-2011, during which there was no global pandemic that led to such closures he was referring to.
Charlie Crist gaslights to the extreme. pic.twitter.com/LCnXbM0a6c— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) October 24, 2022
Perhaps the most telling part of the debate, at least when it came to DeSantis' substantial answers and Crist's personal attacks, came on the topic of education. The audience members behaved particularly inappropriately during this time, as they cheered Crist and booed DeSantis.
The Parental Rights in Education law, which DeSantis signed in late March and went into effect on July 1, just recently had a court victory last Friday. Crist was asked directly about that bill, specifically "do you believe it's important to educate students in kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation and gender identity," which is what the law outlaws.
Crist answered "what I think is important is to educate children in science, math, and history, and true history, and facts," as he went on to claim how teachers have left Florida "because of the way [DeSantis] has treated public schools in our state," which he doubled down on being "wrong" and "embarrassing."
He likely thought he was going for a good applause line when he responded that "we need to have a focus on education and not politicize and make political war zones out of our schools" and how "we need to support our schools, support our teachers, have our parents involved," which he called "absolutely essential." Crist doubled down on "that's what we need to get back to, the basics, instead of having all these cultural and political wars, that Ron loves to too, because as I said, he wants to run for president and he's out of state raising all this money, all the time." He still did not answer the question as to whether or not he supports exactly what the law prohibits, though.
In DeSantis' rebuttal to that, he too was met with applause, but also with some heckling, which did not occur during Crist's time to speak. Nevertheless, DeSantis reminded why he's leading by double digits in the polls and is almost certain to win this race.
"Well, I would say when you oppose the Parental Rights in Education bill, which prevents six-, seven-, eight-year-olds from having sexuality, gender ideology injected into their curriculum, you are the one that's waging a culture war," DeSantis framed it. He also reminded "I'm simply defending parents and students because it's inappropriate to have that in elementary school, it's inappropriate to tell a six-year-old that they were born in the wrong body, it's inappropriate to tell an eight-year-old that they were born a girl but maybe they're really a boy." The governor doubled down on how "we need to do the basics," which is that "we need to teach them to read, write, add and subtract, and if we do that, we'll continue to lead in 4th grade reading and 4th grade math."
The debate was also full of typical partisan divides as DeSantis vowed to protect women and girls' sports, especially as a parent of two daughters, and in light of how Crist said he would veto such legislation to do just that.
Crist went for another expected response with "there you go again, Ron, it's all about the culture wars, it's all about dividing us," as he himself claimed to be "a uniter" and "giving our state a chance to unite again." He even claimed DeSantis divided people on race and sexual orientation, and that he wanted to make it harder to vote in Florida, which made him "anti-democracy."
DeSantis wasn't deterred, though, as he called it "divisive" that Crist would not protect women and girls' sports. He also brought up remarks from Crist the day after he won the primary back in August, where he disavowed DeSantis' supporters.
"Those who support the governor should stay with him and vote for him and I don't want your vote," Crist said at the time. "If you have that hate in your heart, keep it there." At the debate, DeSantis went on to tout his endorsements and assert such groups "do not have hate in their hearts" but "want to keep Florida going and want to keep Florida free."
Similarly, Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Florida law on public school and history drew strong responses from the candidates and the audience, as DeSantis promoted the way history is taught there. Crist distorted it to mean, with raucous applause lines from the audience, that DeSantis was going with "a whitewash approach" and claimed students "don't know our own history."
Florida Gov. @RonDeSantisFL: "I'm proud of our history. I don't want to teach kids to hate our country. I don't want to teach kids to hate each other — and the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."#FLGov pic.twitter.com/c7AF8BbH5j— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 24, 2022
Despite being asked about education, Crist again brought up abortion. "And you're taking away from all these other issues," Crist said to DeSantis, "because you don't want to talk about taking away a woman's right to choose, you don't ever want to talk about that, and that's on the ballot in this election." Even when the moderator called time, Crist still continued. "And he even signed a bill that would take away their right in cases of rape and incest," which he called "unconscionable" and mentioned "no wonder you want to talk about this crazy stuff," as the moderator again reminded him his time was up.
When DeSantis had the chance for rebuttal, which he did by pointing out how CRT have been problematic in schools, audience members were again allowed to heckle the governor. He specifically called claims from Crist's running mate, Karla Hernandez-Mats, who is the president of the largest teachers union in the southeast, "inappropriate" and "not true" when it comes to how the United States was built on stolen land.
Crist did not directly respond to the accusations, but instead dismissed it as "here he goes again, he keeps coming back to this stuff," which were "these outrageous, radical kind of comments that have nothing to do with reality." He laughed, along with the audience that spurred him on, that "you won't even say if you want to be the governor of Florida after this election."
When talking about teachers pay, Crist again thought it would be relevant to bring up his support for abortion, in how voters "deserve a better governor, who cares about women, and your freedom, and your right to choose," as if all women were teachers and all women were as pro-abortion as he was.
As the segment on education concluded, DeSantis had another memorable moment as he reaffirmed his opposition to forcing students to have the COVID vaccine in order to attend school. He declared that "I think this is a parents' decision, I think it's wrong to force it on these kids, and as long as I'm governor, parents, you're going to have the ability to make that decision. We are not going to subcontract out your parental rights to Charlie and his special interest buddies."
When the issue on abortion actually did come up, Crist's position became even worse as he claimed DeSantis was a liar for how he brought up Crist's accurate voting record as a pro-abortion, Democratic congressman.
In response to Crist's attacks, DeSantis called it "callous" with regards to how "Charlie Crist has not only supported abortion up until the moment of birth, he even voted against the Infant Born-Alive Act, which had medical care for an infant that survives an abortion attempt and is born alive."
This was another part of the debate where audience members were allowed to inappropriately heckle the governor. DeSantis nevertheless continued, though, also calling Crist "something of a political chameleon," considering that he used to be a pro-life Republican. "Is this an honest change of heart or is this a guy who's gonna shift with whatever wind he needs to to keep his political career alive," DeSantis asked, as he also added "I think we all know the answer to that question."
Despite the audience members heckling and Crist laughing that "Ron, again, that's not true, and you know it," Crist's recent voting record begs to differ. Not only did Crist co-sponsor and vote in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), which expands Roe v. Wade by allowing for abortion up until birth for any reason without legal limit, with taxpayer dollars and while invalidating pro-life laws passed at the state level, he also has failed to support legislation that would protect babies born alive from abortions.
A particularly egregious moment came from Crist during the segment on the governor's COVID response, as Crist seemed to insinuate DeSantis was responsible for the death of over 82,000 Floridians. While Florida is among the most populous states with some of the most elderly residents, it did fairly well, at one point even having the lowest-case rate in the nation last October. DeSantis also brought up that 30 other states had higher COVID rates for their senior citizens.
Crist also disturbingly equated abortion, or, as he framed it, a "woman's right to choose," with minor children being allowed to go through gender transitions, procedures which DeSantis had doubled down on being "wrong." His Democratic opponent, however, either didn't seem to hear that the question was focused on children or didn't care, as Crist claimed "this reminds me about your position a woman's right to choose," while also framing DeSantis as being "the judge" and "whether or not they can practice their right to choose as a woman."
Bringing "the golden rule" and more personal attacks into it, Crist claimed that if DeSantis ever knew such a rule "clearly you've forgotten it," because "you don't have the temperament to be kind or decent to other people who don't look like you, who don't act like you, and don't contribute to you." He then brought into it how "we're all children of God," as if DeSantis ever claimed otherwise, adding "and that doesn't mean you're supposed to judge about what other people are supposed to do, particularly women with their body.
DeSantis, not deterred, correctly reminded Crist that they were talking about minor children undergoing "a radical procedure," such as double mastectomies, which he doubled down on as "inappropriate" and something "we're not going to allow to happen here," as he called on Crist to "just be honest." The Democrat just went on to emphasize the importance of supposedly "respecting a woman's right to choose."
15-year-olds can't get a tattoo in the state of Florida -- why should they be able to get an elective double mastectomy? Let kids be kids, instead of pressuring them to make life-altering decisions that they will likely regret. pic.twitter.com/cOosvXDJ7h— DeSantis War Room 🐊 #FloridaStrong (@DeSantisWarRoom) October 24, 2022
The Washington Examiner pointed out last week that "Abortion remained one of the least-researched topics among Florida voters, with interest spiking on Oct. 11 before falling into the No. 4 position as of Oct. 16." Rather, that most important issue was education, which Crist slammed DeSantis for talking about when answering questions from the moderator.
This race is considered to heavily favor DeSantis, with forecasters regarding it as "Likely Republican." RealClearPolitics (RCP), shows DeSantis with a lead of +10.0 in the polls. The only poll they have included where Crist was up was by +1 in a St. Pete's poll from early August.