Charlie Crist resigns from Congress to focus on Florida governor race against Ron DeSantis

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist submitted his resignation from Congress on Wednesday to focus on his gubernatorial campaign against Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Crist represents Florida's 13th Congressional District, which includes much of Pinellas County, from St. Petersburg up to Clearwater. Staff for his office will continue to provide casework and constituent services until a newly elected representative is sworn in, which will happen in January.

Crist said in a phone interview Wednesday that his resignation would be effective at the end of the day. He noted that he spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before making the decision.

"She said, ‘I understand, but it looks like we’re in good shape, so you need to do what you need to do and you need to win this election. It's very important and you don't have a lot of time,'" Crist said.

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Crist released a statement on Wednesday on his resignation from Congress:

"Serving as the Representative of Florida’s 13th Congressional District has been an honor and a privilege. When I first took office nearly six years ago, I vowed to defend our Veterans, bring jobs to Florida, fight climate change, and put people over politics. As I close out my time in Congress, I could not be prouder of the work we’ve done to uphold those promises – passing legislation to support our veterans, expanding solar energy in the Sunshine State, securing millions in direct funding for community projects, and returning over $6 million in earned benefits to the people of Pinellas.

"But these achievements start and end with you, the people – my bosses – who have guided my work in Congress since Day One. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for trusting me as your Representative in Washington. And God Bless the great people of Florida’s 13th Congressional District." 

He will face off in November against Florida's current governor, Ron DeSantis.

Crist served as Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. He later switched parties, challenging and losing to Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. He was elected to the St. Petersburg-area congressional seat in 2016.

"I'm going to work hard, get all over the state and win this thing. That's the plan," Crist said. "I've loved representing my home town and my home county. They're wonderful people and I look forward to the race ahead and representing them in the governor's office."

Crist won the Democratic nomination for governor last week after handily defeating Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried by nearly 25 points in the primary election. He has named United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez as his pick for lieutenant governor.

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DeSantis also stepped down from Congress early after winning the Republican nomination in 2018. He won that election against Democrat Andrew Gillum by a margin so thin it required a recount. Over the last four years, however, DeSantis has shot to national prominence and is currently a favorite to reclaim a second term.

DeSantis is also frequently cited as a possibility for the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. After winning the primary election, Crist told supporters his opponent is more focused on that race than serving his own state.

"Guys, this is simple. Governor DeSantis only cares about the White House. He doesn’t care about your house," Crist said.

On Wednesday, Crist appended his resignation announcement with a pitch to voters this fall.

"The choice is crystal clear here. If you want a women's right to choose to be protected, you vote for Charlie Crist; if you want to make sure your vote counts, particularly for African-Americans, you vote for Charlie Crist; if you want the education system to get the support it deserves, you vote for Charlie Crist," he said.

Republican Anna Paulina Luna will face Democrat Eric Lynn, who worked in President Barack Obama’s administration, for Crist's vacant seat in November.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.