Charlie Crist, the Democrat who will challenge Ron DeSantis for Florida governor, is an instantly recognizable face in the state and a politician with one of the most unusual careers in America. He now faces a double challenge: unseat his opponent from state government and, at the same time, stop a race that positions DeSantis as a possible Republican candidate for the White House in 2024.

Christ, 66, was part of the Republican Party during decades. He has served as a state legislator, education commissioner, and state attorney general. In 2006 he managed to win the gubernatorial race as a Republican, but later fell out of favor with his party for committing a capital sin: supporting Barack Obama in 2009.

He ran for the Senate in 2010 but, with the support of the Tea Party, Marco Rubio managed to beat him to the race. Before losing those primaries, as anticipated, he left the party and continued the campaign as an independent. He did not win a seat.

Republican, Independent, Democrat: Charlie Crist’s Winding Road

In 2012, Crist announced his affiliation with the Democratic Party. It was no surprise to Republicans, who had already seen him campaigning for Obama’s re-election and speaking at the Democratic National Convention.

(His support for Obama’s second-in-command had focused on healthcare reform and the Democratic president’s handling of the economy, as well as his own differences with the Republican Party.)

He told the Tampa Bay newspaper at the time: “I have friends who have told me for years, ‘You know, Charlie, you’re a Democrat and you know it.’

He then returned to the gubernatorial race in 2014 to face his successor, then-Governor Rick Scott. He was 64,000 votes away from regaining his old position.

In 2016, he set his sights on the House of Representatives, where he has served three terms.

Many expected Charlie Crist’s career to end in Congress. However, last May he launched himself into the gubernatorial race, a decision that at the time was criticized by many Florida Democratic officials and operatives who saw him as a relic of the past in a party that needs to look forward.

The commitment to the familiar over “something new”

The legislator faced the commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, who at 44 years old aspired to become the first woman governor of the state and who campaigned with the slogan “something new”.

Democrats chose the familiar over “the new,” and now Crist faces the difficult task of defeating DeSantis.

By choosing Charlie Crist, Democrats are banking on a well-known, inoffensive candidate who gives them the best chance of unseating a divisive Republican. It is an almost identical manual to that of Joe Biden to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

However, Biden’s plan did not work in Florida. Trump carried the state by a larger margin in 2020 than he did in 2016.

His element: the campaign

Cris campaigned trying to shake all the hands of the state. In July, for example, in a 36-hour period, he attended a Sunday church service, spoke with parents of children killed by weapons, met Nicaraguan refugees, had lunch with Haitian-American Democrats, and toured Cuban-American businesses in the city. Little Havana with his new fiancée.

Built a coalition of supporters across the state and across all factions of the party: labor unions, environmental groups, black religious leaders, prominent women leaders, and elected officials of all persuasions. Popular Democratic lawmakers like state Rep. Anna Eskamani and state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who initially despised Crist, endorsed him over Fried.

In a interview with CNN after the primaries Tuesday, Crist referred to some of these groups while talking about his opponent. She said DeSantis has been “attacking LGBTQ kids, women and their right to choose, disrespecting them, attacking black voters.” She also accused him of making it more difficult for Black people and the elderly to vote for the primary organization.

The difficult mission of Charlie Crist

Crist now has just 11 weeks to unite his party, energize the Democratic base and convince independent voters that the state needs a new direction.

The stakes are high for Democrats, and not just in Florida, where DeSantis has already pushed an aggressively conservative agenda, promising that a second term will bring new measures to further restrict abortion and make it easier to carry guns in public. But national Democrats are also now seeking to have Crist halt DeSantis’ rise ahead of an anticipated 2024 White House campaign.

“This guy wants to be president of the United States,” Charlie Crist said in his victory speech. “However, when we defeat him on November 8, that show will be over.”

The task will not be easy. DeSantis has racked up $132 million for the general election, a record sum for a non-self-financing gubernatorial candidate, and has galvanized the Republican base more than any other GOP politician not named Donald Trump.

His party surpassed the Democrats in the number of registered voters in Florida for the first time. And it can point to a state economy that appears to be booming, with more people moving there than anywhere else in the country, record tourism numbers, and an unemployment rate of 2.7%, almost a full point below the level. national.

Cris did not elude this reality in his statements this Wednesday. “It’s the Democrats’ last chance to stop him, and it’s going to be a lot cheaper to do it in Florida than it is in 50 states (if DeSantis runs for president). So let’s do it now,” he said in the CNN interview.