Running on ‘the Hug’: Inside Charlie Crist’s Risky Strategy to Dethrone Ron DeSantis

Here, however, was the future of the party with someone they hope could be the man of the moment. The vibe of Eskamani, Larkins and Smith was urgent, personal and raw.

“Representation is important,” Smith said at the start of the event, “but I didn’t even realize how important it was until last year.” He tearfully recounted a homophobic beating he suffered some 20 years prior as a student at UCF.

“I’m gay and non-binary and I’m a junior. I am 17 years old. a m the youth. I a m who is affected by this bill,” said Larkins, who staged a strike in Winter Park to protest the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and recently published an op-ed in the New York Times. “They know what they are doing. They kill children because it is their intention. And it’s disgusting.

Then it was Crist’s turn.

“Will, thank you for your courage, your strength and your ability to stand up, speak out and speak truth to power, because we need it now more than ever. And Anna and Carlos, I’m so happy that you’re all serving in Tallahassee now with the strength that you have, and so honored to be with you today on this panel. You are just amazing people and good friends, and God bless you both for being so good. Fair good,” he said.

He specified the bill targeting LBGTQ youth, albeit more pastorally than politically or prosecutingly. “He tries to punish homosexuals. You know, I have a deep faith, and I believe in God, and I believe that we are all children of God, all of us, without exception. And we are loved. We are all loved… The emotion and care of love are the strongest things we can have in our world. In our universe,” he said.

“And that deserves respect. For me, in many ways, this issue comes down to respect. Do you respect Will? Do you respect Carlos? Do you respect women and their right to choose? I mean, there’s a lot on the plate coming out of Tallahassee right now. It’s not just “Don’t Say Gay”, but it’s a big deal. It’s a big problem. Because it’s a reflection of what’s coming out of Tallahassee today, what this governor is trying to do to our beautiful state,” he said.

“You deserve better. Florida deserves better. Will deserves better.

He opened it for questions. The first he received was a reminder of residual mistrust. A young woman asked him about his belief in the mid-2000s as a Republican that marriage “should be between a man and a woman”.

“Thank you,” said Christ. “Well, uh, you’re right. And no one is perfect, let alone me. And you know, what I’ve learned in life is that the older you get and the more experience you have, it gives you the opportunity to learn more things and understand things better. And hopefully if you combine experience with a decent amount of intellect, you can get to a place that reaches what is called wisdom. And I became wise. And I had an open heart, much like President Obama did when he moved on this issue around the same time as me.

His detractors say it’s things like this that reaffirm their assessment of Crist as a Grade A opportunist. If you’ve been everything, they reason, are you anything? Even for these types of reviews, however, an addendum to that assessment is often a kind of head-shaking admiration. “He mirrors everything put in front of him,” said the second Republican lobbyist, “and inasmuch as he’s a great adaptive survival skill, I’ve never seen anyone better.”

After the UCF event, I asked the other Crist panelists what they thought. What I heard were ultimately pragmatic notes, similar to how many younger, more progressive Democrats made peace with Biden to try to beat Trump. They may represent the future, but they deal with the pressing realities of the present.

“That’s Charlie’s style,” Eskamani said. “And it worked.” She has yet to give her endorsement, but she said this: “You can’t deny or ignore Democratic voters who look like Charlie.”

“I mean,” Larkins told me, “he was really nice, and I appreciated that, but…it was kind of a representation of politics in America.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“We have to get Ron DeSantis out. So I’m obviously going to promote “- he won’t be able to vote, neither in the primaries nor in the generals, because he won’t be 18 until January -” whoever the Democratic favorite is. But having people, I don’t know, who aren’t young in power, and who aren’t directly affected by the legislation in power, that’s sort of what’s always happened, and that’s a bit what is happening nationally and most likely will happen here in Florida. And that’s not necessarily bad. I just think longer term, young people need to have more power,” Larkins said.

“That’s exactly how I felt about Joe Biden.”

“Steel under this velvet glove”

BBack in Tampa, hours after Patrick Manteiga at the meat market told Crist to “get tough” and “get mean,” Crist at a campaign fundraiser slipped into the outside courtyard of the Haya Hotel in Ybor City, doing its job the way it does – table-to-table, person-to-person, hand-to-hand. I remembered something I had heard from Mac Stipanovich. “Charlie is not only the best active retail politician in Florida today at any level. He’s been the best active retail politician in Florida for probably 20 years,” the former lobbyist said. and Florida Republican Agent.”I’d rather drill holes in my face with a wood drill bit than spend a weekend with Ron DeSantis,” he added. “I’d cross the Atlantic in a crewed sailboat with Charlie.”

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