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DeSantis Seeks Crushing Victory in November With Eye Toward 2024

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 8/24/2022 Mark Niquette

(Bloomberg) -- Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is heavily favored to cruise to a second term in the November general election, but anything less than a convincing win over Democrat Charlie Crist could spell doom for any 2024 presidential aspirations.

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DeSantis, 43, hasn’t said he plans to run in 2024, but he will be seeking a dominant performance to maintain his status in polls as GOP voters’ preferred standard-bearer should former President Donald Trump decide against making a third White House bid. The election is also an opportunity for DeSantis to ward off other potential challengers.

A blowout in the Nov. 8 general election would give the governor the bounce he needs to launch a presidential campaign. He’s already persuaded billionaires including Citadel founder Ken Griffin to open their wallets, and a resounding victory would likely attract more deep-pocketed donors.

Governor DeSantis Joins Republican Senate Candidate JD Vance For A Turning Point 'Unite & Win' Rally © Bloomberg Governor DeSantis Joins Republican Senate Candidate JD Vance For A Turning Point 'Unite & Win' Rally

DeSantis will want to at least exceed Trump’s 3.3 percentage-point victory over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race in Florida to show he can carry the battleground state with broad support, said Susan MacManus, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida in Tampa. 

A loss in the general election to Crist, who easily defeated Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, would be devastating to DeSantis’s White House ambitions -- and even a close race would make it more difficult for him to attract early support and funding, MacManus said. 

“I don’t know that it ends his chances, but it certainly is a stomach punch,” said Michael Binder, director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida. Binder noted that DeSantis beat Democrat Andrew Gillum to win the office in 2018 by only 32,463 votes, or by less than 1 percentage point, so DeSantis could say he quadrupled his previous margin with even a 4 percentage-point win over Crist. 

But an extremely close race would probably discourage DeSantis from challenging Trump if the former president ran and encourage potential challengers, said independent pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy in Florida.

“It would take any chance of him maybe challenging Trump off the table, and it certainly would invite a bunch of people in that might be hesitant right now to jump in just because he’s sort of become the darling of the ‘in’ crowd in conservative circles,” Coker said.

Trump Teases

Trump has teased for months that he plans to run again in 2024, and that the only question was whether to announce before the November midterm elections or after. 

Before the FBI executed a search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Aug. 8, causing Republicans to rally behind him, DeSantis had emerged as the favored alternative to the former president among GOP voters who love Trump’s policies and style, but not his political baggage.

Trump dominated a presidential straw poll of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas earlier this month, but DeSantis was a clear second choice ahead of all other potential 2024 candidates and the overwhelming pick if Trump doesn’t run.

Speaking at a “Keep Florida Free” rally in Hialeah on Tuesday night, DeSantis vowed to run hard through the Nov. 8 general election and encouraged his supporters not to take the race lightly.

“Don’t let anyone tell you it’s going to be easy over the next two-and-a-half months. They’re going to throw everything they have at us,” DeSantis said. “We’re not just running against a political party or candidate. We’re also running against national corporate media who’s going to do whatever they can to derail Florida’s progress.”

Some strategists said if DeSantis wants to win the Florida general election convincingly, he should focus on his re-election and spend less time outside the state campaigning for other candidates and promoting himself for a potential White House bid. Earlier this month, DeSantis appeared at rallies hosted by the conservative student group affiliate Turning Point Action for US Senate candidates and other 2022 hopefuls in Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

DeSantis stumped for the candidates but also used his speeches to tout his record in Florida and expound on themes that would likely be part of a pitch to GOP presidential primary voters -- especially his fight against “woke” corporations and ideology. 

‘Top Gov’

The Florida governor even tossed hats to the crowds in Pennsylvania and Ohio before his speeches, like Trump does at his rallies, and he released a video this week based on the “Top Gun” movies showing himself as a “Top Gov” pilot fighting the “corporate media.”

Coker said DeSantis probably preferred to face Crist because he’d have to run a more nuanced campaign against Fried, who campaigned with the slogan “something new” and could have appealed to younger voters and women. Crist is vulnerable after previously switching parties and for contradictory positions he’s taken during his almost three decades in state politics, Coker said.

“DeSantis can just go right at Crist because there’s so much to work with,” Coker said. “He certainly has the financial resources to hit him any way he wants, anywhere he wants, anytime he wants.”

DeSantis has collected $154 million in campaign contributions since the start of 2021 through Aug. 18 -- more than Trump has reported raising since leaving office -- while Crist raised just $15 million and Fried $8 million, according to campaign finance reports.

Democrats have been attacking DeSantis as extreme for his focus on culture-war issues, especially a law limiting school instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation that critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. But he may also be vulnerable for the collapse of the insurance market and rising housing prices in Florida, which DeSantis can’t blame entirely on Democrats in Washington, Binder said.

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