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By Beatriz Arias
Republican Ron DeSantis, current governor of Florida and candidate for reelection, and his rival, Democrat Charlie Crist, held a debate on Monday that evidenced their opposing views on issues such as immigration or abortion protections, and in which the former avoided answering whether he will run for president in 2024.
In the only face-to-face between the two candidates prior to the mid-term elections on November 8, held in Fort Pierce, in southeast Florida, DeSantis did not respond when the Democratic candidate asked him on more than one occasion if he will serve his four-year term as governor in case he is reelected.
The hesitation is related to his name being bandied about as a possible Republican challenger in the 2024 general election, but DeSantis never made a direct statement during a debate that had a very enthusiastic audience, more typical of a rally than of a televised event.
The governor came to the debate with a wide advantage in the polls, in the last of which he leads the Democrat by eleven percentage points, and hence Crist’s direct attacks today, in search of reversing that voting trend.
The favoritism towards DeSantis is reflected even among Hispanics in the state, a segment where he is ahead by seven points, largely thanks to the Cuban American vote, according to a poll commissioned by Telemundo/LX News.
Therefore, DeSantis did not rush to sugarcoat controversial acts such as the September shipment of some fifty undocumented Venezuelans from San Antonio (Texas) to the resort of Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts), a transfer paid for with more than $600,000 from state coffers and which has brought him at least three lawsuits.
“What we did was put this issue at the forefront of the discussion,” the governor said in the debate moderated by CBS journalist Liz Quirantes, where he said that “millions and millions” of undocumented immigrants cross the southern border of the United States, a crisis he linked to the trafficking of fentanyl into the country.
Crist, who today called the transfer “a horrible political stunt,” in the past called for a federal investigation to determine the legality of this shipment of undocumented immigrants, in view of the fact that the payment for the airlift came out of a $12 million budget approved by the state Legislature for the transport of irregular immigrants who were in the state.
“You like to divide,” said the Democrat, who at another point accused the governor of politicizing education during his term with laws such as the prohibition of talking about gender identity in the state’s public schools until third grade.
The Democrat, who was governor of Florida (2007-2011) as member of the Republican Party, defined himself as “the candidate of unity” and alluded several times to achievements during his administration.
After assuring in the past that if he won the election he would immediately sign an executive order to protect abortion in Florida, Crist today defended that women have the right to choose.
On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the right to abortion established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which established federal legal and constitutional protections for women who want to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy, a landmark ruling that now leaves its legislation in the hands of state governments.
DeSantis promoted and signed a bill that restricts abortion in this state after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions that do not include cases of rape or incest, and after the Supreme Court decision he promised that his administration would work to “expand pro-life protections.”
Questioned tonight about from which week should abortion be banned, in light of Republican governors in other states leaning toward a total ban, the governor did not answer the question, instead he declared he was proud of the measure he pushed through in Florida.
The debate was held about two weeks before the mid-term elections, in which federal and state congressional and senatorial seats are up for renewal, as well as other public offices such as state governors.
Likewise, as in many other parts of the country, early voting began this Monday in several Florida counties, in a day in which, according to official figures, more than 1.1 million Floridians have already voted and sent their ballot by mail.