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Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) formally announced his gubernatorial challenge against Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom many describe as a rising star in the Republican Party, repeating several falsehoods in his announcement video, accusing the Republican governor of “stripping away” voting rights and failing to properly prioritize seniors during the initial introduction of vaccines in the Sunshine State.

Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who served as Florida’s governor from 2009-2011 and unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) in the gubernatorial race in 2014, released his announcement video on Tuesday, touting his accomplishments during his tenure, claiming to have protected the everglades, cut property taxes for seniors, lowered the cost of prescription jobs, and restored voting rights for Floridians “who did their time.” His ad even features former President Barack Obama thanking him for his work.

Crist used his announcement video to attack DeSantis’s response to the pandemic, contending he “attacked doctors and scientists” and repeating the fake news that DeSantis “handed out vaccines to his wealthy contributors while seniors were left waiting.”

In reality, DeSantis prioritized seniors from the very beginning of the pandemic, earning criticism from establishment media outlets, some of which accused him of bucking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

The entire narrative, that DeSantis engaged in pay-for-play and handed out vaccines to wealthy contributors, effectively blew up in the establishment media’s faces following a controversial 60 Minutes segment, which deceptively edited the governor’s answer to a question on vaccine distribution to make it seem as if he dodged the question.

“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign,” 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi said at the time. “And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach —”

DeSantis interjected, but Alfonsi ultimately asked “how is that not pay for play.”

“That’s a fake narrative,” DeSantis explained, although 60 Minutes did not provide his comprehensive answer, in which he explained that CVS and Walgreens were the first to have the vaccines but focused on a “long-term care mission” and added that Publix was the “first one to raise their hand, say they were ready to go.” He also provided other details on how they arrived to the decision to work with Publix, noting the incredibly high percentage of seniors living within a mile and a half of the grocery chain:

DeSantis explained:

So, first of all, when we did, the first pharmacies that had it were CVS and Walgreens. And they had a long-term care mission. So they were going to the long-term care facilities. They got the vaccine in the middle of December, they started going to the long-term care facilities the third week of December to do LTCs. So that was their mission. That was very important. And we trusted them to do that.

As we got into January, we wanted to expand the distribution points. So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive through sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more. So we reached out to other retail pharmacies — Publix, Walmart — obviously CVS and Walgreens had to finish that mission. And we said, we’re going to use you as soon as you’re done with that.

For Publix, they were the first one to raise their hand, say they were ready to go. And you know what, we did it on a trial basis. I had three counties. I actually showed up that weekend and talked to seniors across four different Publix. How was the experience? Is this good? Should you think this is a way to go? And it was 100% positive. So we expanded it, and then folks liked it. And I can tell you, if you look at a place like Palm Beach County, they were kind of struggling at first in terms of the senior numbers.

Publix denied the allegations of pay-to-play, and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) concluded the 60 Minutes segment “should have provided more context.”

That aside, Crist also accused DeSantis of “stripping away” voting rights and criticized the governor for not supporting abortion or the $15 minimum wage.

“Doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and unless you can write him a campaign check, you don’t exist,” Crist asserted:

Crist’s bid represents yet another loss for House Democrats, who are battling to maintain their slim majority in the lower chamber.

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