A recent statement from a Democratic candidate eyeing the Florida governor’s seat has opened the door for COVID-19 to remain a central issue in the race against sitting Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
A video obtained by Fox News Digital shows former Florida governor and current Congressman Charlie Crist, D-Fla., telling attendees at a campaign event in Wilton Manors, Florida, that if he were elected, he would be open to a statewide mask mandate.
An event attendee asked, “Congressman, thank you for coming. You mentioned the pandemic. Hopefully it is behind us. But as Florida’s governor, would you be open to mandating or regulating masks?”
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“I would be open to doing what scientists advise — not political scientists,” Crist responded. “Yes. I just read an article this morning. I’m glad you brought it up. So I’m going to the airport right after this. I’m going to Orlando, and I’m going to wear a mask on the plane. You don’t have to anymore, but I’m going to because Florida is experiencing an uptick that began this week. And it’s not even the Omicron B2. It’s a new variant.”
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
(2014 Getty Images)
This isn’t the first time Crist has signaled support for COVID mandates. In July 2021, he said that he would support mask mandates and lockdowns, similar to strict measures in place at the start of the pandemic.
A Florida judge earlier this month tossed out the Biden administration’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention mask mandate for public transportation passengers.
Crist’s statements on masks come after his Democratic primary opponent Nikki Fried tweeted support for an end to the federal mask mandate.
Earlier in April, a maskless Fried gestured a peace sign toward her selfie camera in one tweet.
“Peace out to the TSA mask mandate, but also peace and respect to others, whether wearing a mask or not,” she captioned the tweet.
“I’ll read all your takes, but the mandates are dropped, vaccines are working, things are getting back to normal, and it’s okay for a Democrat to say it — because we made it possible. I love y’all,” she wrote.
Nikki Fried, Florida commissioner of agriculture and a 2022 Democratic candidate for Florida governor, arrives for a ceremony with President Biden.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
DeSantis, who never imposed a statewide mask mandate at any point in the pandemic and is running for a second term as governor in 2022, has adamantly opposed enforcing strict COVID restrictions.
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“Florida has led the nation in standing up to misguided federal government policies and fighting back against heavy-handed mandates that have no scientific backing,” he recently stated after the CDC’s federal transportation mask mandate was invalidated.
Florida GOP Vice Chairman Christian Ziegler told Fox News Digital, “Charlie Crist being ‘open’ to imposing mask mandates is one of the most out-of-touch positions Crist has ever taken, which is really saying something.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the welcome segment of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 26, 2021.
(REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo)
“Americans are flocking to Florida, and the Republican Party of Florida is dominating in voter registration due in large part to Governor DeSantis fighting back and protecting us from ridiculous, anti-science mask mandates and COVID tyrants like Charlie Crist,” Ziegler continued.
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Recent polling found that most Americans (62%) don’t want mask mandates to return and only 34% supported them. In addition, only 12% of Republicans said they would support additional COVID restrictions at this point in the pandemic.
In March, Fox News Digital reported that registered Republican voters now outnumber Democrats by over 100,000 in Florida for the first time in the state’s history.
The Crist campaign and the Florida Democratic Party did not respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment on how they view the issue of COVID mandates in the gubernatorial race.
It is unclear if the Florida Democratic Party will back Fried or Crist on the issue. Florida’s primary election isn’t until the end of August.
Kelly Laco is a politics editor for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to Kelly.Laco@Fox.com and on Twitter: @kelly_laco.