U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist focused on abortion rights Monday, a strategy that even some of his supporters are questioning, as he embarked on a statewide bus tour to deliver the closing remarks in the final week of his campaign for governor.
Crist, a Democrat who is challenging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, called his latest campaign a “choose freedom” bus tour. He kicked off the tour Monday with stops in Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
“The freedom we choose is for a woman’s right to choose,” Crist said in a brief two-minute speech to 75 supporters at Newtown Estates Estates Park in Sarasota.
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In the audience was Democrat Margaret Esaw, 58, a Sarasota business owner who said after Crist’s speech that she believes abortion rights are important, but “I don’t think that should be his main focus.”
“I’m saying this for this reason: I’m 58, I’m past reproductive age, and that’s not a problem for me right now,” Esaw said. “And the people who are of childbearing age are mostly your millennials, and they’re the least politically engaged, the least likely to vote.”
Economic concerns also affect more people, and Democrats should work to reach as many voters as possible, Esaw added.
“I think the Democratic Party needs to watch the water flow, the water flow is a kitchen table issue,” Esaw said. “Can I support my family? Can I afford medicine? Can I afford gas? Can I afford housing? These are the most valuable issues that affect everyone.”
Polls show inflation, economy top concern for Florida voters
Inflation and the economy are the top concerns of Florida voters heading into the Nov. 8 election, according to four statewide polls released in October.
A Spectrum News/Siena College poll found that nearly six in 10 — 58% — said economic issues were their top voting priority, followed by threats to American democracy (27%), abortion rights (21%) and immigration (23%) ). A Florida Atlantic University poll found that 36% cited inflation as the top concern, followed by “threats to democracy” (19%) and health care (11%).
The same sentiments are expressed in national opinion polls.
The economy, inflation and other pocketbook issues top the list in a new ABC News-Ipsos poll released over the weekend. It found that 26% named the economy and 23% named inflation as the most important issue.
Crist did not mention economic issues in his speech in Sarasota on Monday.
Democrats are “absolutely not doing” enough to address the purse strings, Esaw added, and she believes that’s why the party is struggling.
“The Republican Party talks about what affects everyone in America. The Democrats talk about what affects the childbearing population,” she said.
A major element of Charlie Crist’s campaign was abortion rights
Crist regularly speaks out on many wallet issues, including the high cost of homeowner’s insurance and rising utility rates, but he has made abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign.
Even when Crist was asked about affordable housing in the first question of his debate last week against DeSantis, he turned first to talk about abortion before addressing housing issues. He mentioned the “right to choose” at least eight times in the debate.
For some, Crist’s focus on abortion rights resonates.
Venice resident Gladys Charles, a retired certified nursing assistant, also attended Monday’s Crist’s Sarasota event. Her main topic is the right to abortion.
“First of all, it’s a choice for women, a free choice for women,” Charles said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m voting for him, that’s my main reason.
Charles said economic issues like gas prices are also important, but she believes abortion is a top concern for many voters.
“There’s a lot of other things to take care of,” Charles said, besides abortions. “But for women right now, I, women know it’s about the right.
But Crist’s focus on abortion doesn’t seem to be boosting his campaign. Recent polls from Mason-Dixon, Florida Atlantic University and the University of North Florida all show DeSantis leading Crist by double digits.
Crist urged his supporters to ignore “what you’re hearing” about the race not being close.
“This race is close, don’t believe what you hear,” Crist said Monday. “This race is close, they’re always tight in Florida. We know that.”
Not only is Crist trailing in the polls, but Democrats are trailing Republicans in the number of combined mail-in and in-person first-time votes cast so far. Democrats cast more votes than Republicans in both 2018 and 2020.
Crist shrugged off lackluster early voting numbers for Democrats on Monday, even as he cast his ballot early and urged his supporters to do the same.
“I’m excited about this election, I can’t wait for November 8 and I can’t wait for change to come to Tallahassee,” Crist said when asked about the GOP’s lead in the primary. “I’m looking forward to that and I believe most Floridians are too.”
Follow Herald-Tribune political editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at [email protected]