As pandemic eases, DeSantis in Florida takes national stage
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Democrats braced themselves to pounce. The state’s economy was in tatters, infections and deaths were on the rise, and there were doubts about the Republican’s plan to pull Florida out of the crisis.
Now that the pandemic appears to be abating and DeSantis is heading towards his re-election campaign next year, he has emerged from political uncertainty as one of the most important Republican governors and one of the first favorites in the country. White House in 2024 among the acolytes of Donald Trump, if the former president no longer shows up.
As DeSantis’ national stature has grown, he has remained defiant in the face of continued attacks on his tough opposition to hide mandates and lockdowns.
“Stay in the line. Don’t back down,” he told a crowd at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh on May 20. “And in the state of Florida, with me as governor, I don’t only started to fight.
That fight will come soon, as he campaigns for a second term and pressure is put on Florida Democrats to regain a foothold in a state that has turned to Republicans for multiple election cycles. Unless a new formula is found, Democrats could find themselves shut out of state office for the first time since reconstruction.
“It’s not just a race – it’s two races in one, given the way Ron DeSantis tries to use a re-election victory as a slingshot and then be the front-runner” for the GOP nomination in 2024, said said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic Pollster in Miami. “If they manage to prevent him from being re-elected, they almost certainly eliminate any possibility of him running for president.”
DeSantis won three years ago against Democrat Andrew Gillum, and Democrats are wondering if they can field a candidate who can reclaim the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1994.
U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who is now a Democrat, announced his gubernatorial campaign this month. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat currently in a statewide post, announced the June 1 date to publicly announce whether she would run.
Some Democrats had hoped that U.S. Representative Val Demings, who helped manage Trump’s first impeachment and was seen as President Joe Biden’s vice president, would join the race. Instead, she is considering a candidacy for the seat of the United States Senate now held by Republican Marco Rubio.
No matter who enters the Democratic contest, toppling DeSantis will be “a tall order,” said Ryan Tyson, a Republican pollster based in Tallahassee. “Democrats do not understand that the state of Florida is changing under their noses.”
Florida’s population continues to climb, but many of the state’s new residents are older and come from more Republican-friendly parts of the country. Prior to last November’s presidential election, Republicans had narrowed the registration gap with Democrats to about 117,000. On election day four years earlier, Democrats had a 327,000 voter registration lead. Since then, Republicans have continued to win – with a Democratic advantage of just over 100,000.
Both sides will attempt to nationalize the race, in part to gain support from major donors outside the state. For DeSantis, it is also about raising its national profile.
Of course, that will likely become a line of attack for Crist and Fried, who accuse DeSantis of being more interested in pursuing his political ambitions than addressing the concerns of Floridians.
“Just like our former president, he always takes the credit but never takes responsibility,” Crist said when he announced his candidacy for governor. In a video alluding to his possible entry into the race, Fried called DeSantis an “authoritarian dictator.”
Appealing to Trump supporters could be smart as the Republican Party deepens its allegiance to the former president, whose shadow will no doubt loom on top-level races like the one about to take place in Florida.
During his visit to Pittsburgh, DeSantis applauded Trump for acknowledging the military and economic threats posed by China and sympathized with him for his battles against social media companies such as Twitter, who banned him from his platform. -form.
The governor is “definitely making an effort to appeal to the Trump base.” The downside, of course, is that the former president is so polarizing, ”said Kevin Wagner, political scientist at Florida Atlantic University. “But in the state of Florida, where the former president has done very well, appealing to his voter base seems like a fairly prudent move.”
DeSantis’ ambitions could become muddled if Trump shows up in 2024. It would force DeSantis and other hopefuls to wait or start redefining themselves beyond Trump’s shadow.
Democrats believed the pandemic would be a strong line of attack against DeSantis.
In November, Floridians were roughly evenly divided over the governor’s handling of the pandemic, with 49% approving and 50% disapproving, according to AP VoteCast. In the same poll, 48% had a favorable opinion of DeSantis while 45% considered it unfavorably.
But about 18 months before the November 2022 election, it remains to be seen how the pandemic might play out in the countryside. The pandemic has become a key talking point against what DeSantis has called “the militant left”.
“We have saved millions of livelihoods from the weight of lockdowns,” he said in Pittsburgh. “All I can say to any state that hasn’t followed suit: open your state, open your schools, take away those mask warrants, let people live and prosper.”
As he spent his early years as governor of Florida portraying himself as an advocate for the environment, including the state’s darling Everglades and endangered coasts, and even as a reminder for teachers under- paid out of his state, DeSantis has recently taken a sharper turn to the right.
During the recently concluded legislative session in Florida, DeSantis was successful in pushing for a “riot” law that thwarts the Black Lives Matter movement. He won a law that criticized social media companies which the governor accused censored conservative thinking.
In a recent Fox News appearance – one of many – DeSantis introduced a freshly signed law that tightens voting rules amid unproven claims among Trump supporters that Trump was denied a second term of office due to electoral irregularities.
“The governor’s priorities have certainly passed, and that can only be good for him,” said Susie Wiles, a Republican strategist who helped Trump win Florida last year and continues to work for him. “What’s good for him has turned out to be good for the state, which allows him to have good fortune before his re-election next year.”
Associated Press editor Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.
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