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Republicans bristle at Florida's reputation as front line of social issues fight

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 11/28/2022 Naomi Lim
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MIAMI — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida are in the political spotlight as the possible 2024 Republican presidential candidate solidifies his party's hold on the Sunshine State.

But with DeSantis's Florida now a conservative beacon, a special status conferred on the state amid the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic, its residents bristle at the liberal suggestion their home is the front line of the so-called culture wars over a long list of social issues.

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Republicans contend DeSantis's almost double-digit thumping of Charlie Crist (D-FL) in the pair's gubernatorial race provides a case study on how the GOP should approach the 2024 elections as the party reflects on a disappointing midterm cycle. Although Democrats, including President Joe Biden, attribute their surprise overperformance, despite a dour economy, to a combination of claiming the political middle and Republicans' "extreme" anti-abortion message, DeSantis's success undermines that argument.

DeSantis was a three-term congressman who clinched the governor's mansion in 2018 by less than a percentage point, 49.6% to 49.2%, after a recount. Four years later, he is a favorite in what is expected to be a crowded 2024 Republican primary field due, in part, to his push to reopen Florida amid the pandemic, his advocacy of anti-woke school curricula, and his effort to underscore the country's broken immigration system.

"I took the arrows so you wouldn't have to. We will continue to fight the good fight," DeSantis said last month in Fort Pierce, closing his only debate against Crist. "We've accomplished an awful lot, but we've only begun to fight."

Democrats are simply "out of sync" with Florida's values, particularly those that are important to the Latino and Hispanic community, according to state Republican Party Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferre.

"When you look at Democrat policies that are basically saying they want abortion up to term, when they say that they want to teach critical race theory," Aguirre Ferre said. "When they say they want to defund the police, that's contrary to what Florida residents believe.

"When you look at transgender ideology that has completely permeated not only education but also even sports," she added. "The Democrat Party is not recognizable. ... They won't even say open borders is a crisis in our country. They won't address fentanyl. They have completely turned their backs on all the basic issues."

After a Spanish-speaking campaign rally for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in Hialeah, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) similarly asserted Florida's culture war reputation is unfair and unfounded.

"In the mid-90s, South Florida was No. 1 in violent crime in the country, Florida was rated as one of the states that was not good to open businesses in, and the state legislature used to raise taxes every single year," Diaz-Balart told the Washington Examiner.

"What changed?" he asked. "Republicans took control of the state legislature, and we haven't looked back. And so Florida is on the forefront of good policies, successful policies, of policies that keep our cities safe, that keep taxes low, and that create prosperity and opportunity and social mobility."

For Monroe County IT consultant Tim Kollars, 40, Florida is "trying to keep radical changes from here," a trend that has been exacerbated by the country becoming "so spoiled and bored."

"We don't work for anything. We produce nothing. Everything's taken care of for us," he said after a separate Rubio stop in Key Largo. "We're just bored and we dream up ridiculous things. I don't know; they call it 'progressivism.' So we're just sitting here dreaming up stuff to ruin us is really the bottom line."

Fellow Monroe County yacht broker Matt Key, 50, agreed, saying Florida is not "far right," it is just "honest," and the state's candor "gets bent, it gets twisted." Realtor Jessica Prescott, 44, too, described Florida as being "under attack."

Interior designer Barbara Bee, 59, herself a northern transplant, added domestic migration had cemented Florida as a Republican state, conservatives enticed to move south by DeSantis's promise of "freedom." Insurance agent Betsy Gibbons, 59, concurred, repeating, "We have freedom here."

Meanwhile, Democrats, such as Duval County teacher Monica DePaul, 35, who uses she/her pronouns, encouraged Biden and his colleagues to continue drawing contrasts between their party and Republicans since the latter is "hostile" to, "frankly, everything I am."

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"They're just doing it because they have no good ideas because they have nothing that they could say that will actually help anyone," she said after a Crist event in Jacksonville. "He needs to change his rhetoric because he called Republicans 'semifascist.' He needs to remove the 'semi' part. They're full fascist."

 

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Tags: Florida, Ron DeSantis, Joe Biden, Midterms 2022, 2024 Elections

Original Author: Naomi Lim

Original Location: Republicans bristle at Florida's reputation as front line of social issues fight

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