Joe Henderson: Charlie Crist says he can beat Ron DeSantis, so here’s his chance

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The only thing Florida Democrats want to know this morning is whether Charlie Crist can beat Ron DeSantis.

If you believe the polls, the easy answer is “no.” I’m not saying DeSantis wouldn’t lose votes if he stepped outside the state Capitol and shot someone, but if that did happen, Republicans would find a way to blame Joe Biden.

DeSantis’ backers are confident, even cocky, about the outcome. And there’s a lot of justification for that. The Governor has money to burn, a résumé his supporters love, and his “Free State of Florida” schtick is marketing genius.

Given that, is it even reasonable to suggest Crist has a path to victory, even if it’s a rocky, narrow trail on the edge of a high mountain?

That depends on whether he can stitch together the groups DeSantis targeted over the last four years. Republicans see DeSantis as a man of action, but others see a bully. There may be more in the latter camp than the Governor’s obedient flock might think.

Put it this way: Democrats didn’t like Rick Scott but weren’t fired up enough to beat him. But they loathe DeSantis, and that kind of anger can be motivating.

Start with teachers.

Yes, he gave them raises, but he also gave them ultimatums about what they can say in the classroom — or, more importantly, what they can’t say.

Out of one side of the Governor’s mouth, he railed at the height of the pandemic about the importance of in-person instruction even if it put teachers’ health at risk. His tirade about “woke” teachers “indoctrinating” students came out of the other side of his mouth.

DeSantis also championed a law that makes it easy for parents to sue teachers and school districts if their little darlings hear something in class that they don’t like.

Thousands of Florida teachers decided to take a new career path rather than put up with that noise. That’s a key constituency for Crist.

Crist also needs major help from Black voters. From the infamous “monkey it up” quote DeSantis said about Andrew Gillum to the unnecessary and racially tinged “anti-riot bill,” the Governor repeatedly marginalized Blacks.

He pushed for voting restrictions — er, security measures — that appeared to target minority communities. And Susan Lopez, his hand-picked replacement for suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, wants to revive Tampa’s racist “Biking While Black” prosecutions.

“They’ve decided to declare war on our community again,” Connie Burton, longtime Tampa civil rights activist, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

He pushed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law and used transgender students as a campaign prop.

And, of course, DeSantis went all-in on a law that severely restricts abortion rights. He is playing with fire on that one.

A Florida Policy Survey last month showed 57% of Floridians disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

There’s also the widespread belief that DeSantis will run for President in 2024. Is he using the top office in Florida as a staging area for larger ambitions? That’s an issue Crist can exploit.

Even with all that, many things have to go right for Crist. More importantly, things have to go way wrong for DeSantis.

Crist’s game plan was to build his campaign from the ground up. He spent a lot of time in areas considered DeSantis strongholds. He made the case that DeSantis is an autocrat and divider.

It worked well enough to overwhelmingly convince Democratic Primary voters that he is their best chance to beat DeSantis. Crist says he can do just that.

Now, he has to prove it.

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