Charlie Crist cast his ballot in St. Petersburg as Democrats trailed in early voting numbers

HOLY. PETERSBURG — Charlie Crist saw his name on the ballot Monday for the 18th time. But as he walked out of an early voting location in downtown St. Petersburg, he told a crew of local news cameras that this time was the most important.

Related: Florida Democrats are behind in early voting and behind on ballots

“What (Gov. Ron) DeSantis did to our state, (he) tore our Florida apart,” said the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, whose former offices include the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as governor and attorney general as a Republican. “We need to reunite our Florida and that’s what this election is really about.”

Eight days before Election Day, candidates in Florida make closing speeches to voters. Crist who focused on abortion rights as a centerpiece of his campaign, launched a nationwide “Choose Freedom” bus tour Monday after casting his ballot. Before that, he spent the weekend holding a virtual phone bank in support of abortion rights and attending a Florida A&M University football game, and his campaign launched the “Votercade for Democracy” tour aimed at mobilizing Hispanic voters.

DeSantis also had a busy weekend: On Friday, he joined country music star Luke Bryan on stage at a Jacksonville concert to toss hats into the audience before announcing that Bryan would donate “a large portion” of the proceeds to the upcoming show. in Estero to the state of Florida for Hurricane Ian relief. After Bryan received some backlash on social media, he released a statement he says he understands DeSantis is “a very polarizing figure … but I grew up in a country where if the governor asks you if they can come and raise awareness about helping victims of a natural disaster, you help them.”

DeSantis also appeared at the Florida-Georgia college football game Saturday for a coin toss before attending a rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin that night in New York.

DeSantis’ personal endorsement of Republicans in other states — especially so close to Election Day — continues to fuel presidential speculation about the governor in 2024. And projects DeSantis’ confidence in winning the elections.

He has reason to be optimistic. Florida’s voting population has continued to turn red ahead of the 2022 general election, state data shows. Republicans have more than 300,000 more registered voters than Florida Democrats as of Oct. 11, the last day to register to vote in the general election.

Republicans also outnumbered Democrats in the number of mail-in and in-person early voting ballots cast so far by about 96,000, according to Monday’s data. (Nearly 524,000 registered voters with no party affiliation or with a third party also cast ballots.)

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Related: Florida Democrats are behind in early voting and behind on ballots

That’s a “real problem” for Democrats, especially since Republicans typically have higher voter turnout on Election Day, said Susan McManus, a retired political science professor and longtime Florida political analyst. She noted that the party’s biggest “trouble spots” seem to be with younger and black voters.

“The reason they bring in the big guns is to increase participation,” she added, referring to the upcoming rally with President Joe Biden in South Florida and Barack Obama’s robocall to support Florida Democrats. “They don’t have much time.

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