Florida’s hardline Republican leader Ron DeSantis, who has become a household name during the pandemic, will win a second term to lead the Sunshine State, a development CNN expects will be almost immediate Turn his future focus to 2024.
“Not only did we win the election, we rewrote the political landscape,” DeSantis said in a speech Tuesday night after thwarting Democrat Charlie Crist’s attempt to retake his old office.
The governor called his re-election a “timeless victory” and confirmed his radical partisan agenda. “We made promises to the people of Florida, and we’ve delivered on those promises,” DeSantis said. “Today, four years later, the judgment has been handed down. Freedom will always be there.”
He accused Florida of being “a sanctuary for reason when the world is insane”, “where it wakes up dies” and “a glimmer of hope for better days ahead.”
With support for his re-election bid, a decision looms over whether to bring his political success in Florida to a national campaign to the White House — one that could put him at odds with former President Donald Trump.
Even before Tuesday, the cold war between DeSantis and Trump had heated up, clouding the final days of the campaign. Their long-simmering rivalry was on full display on the final weekend of the mid-cycle, when the two held a duel rally on opposite sides of Florida, Trump’s camp told CNN that his one-time ally was not invited, and DeSanti Sri Lanka’s allies insist the governor doesn’t want to be there without me.
In Pennsylvania on Saturday, Trump threw out the “Ron DeSanctimonious” moniker — a sure sign that the former president is actively considering how best to neutralize DeSantis in a potential primary showdown.
DeSantis has largely avoided talking about his presidential future — and Trump — even as his actions suggest he is laying the groundwork for the campaign. He built a fundraising machine that has raised $200 million over the past two years, breaking a national record for a gubernatorial candidate.
On the campaign trail, DeSantis spent little time on Crist, focusing instead on President Joe Biden and his political battle for nationalization. His campaign has released a series of engaging and well-produced videos and ads that are as numerous as his growing national following on social media and email and Florida voters. DeSantis, a former Navy lawyer, played a fighter pilot in an article labeled “Top Governor,” sharing his “rules of engagement” for “dogfighting” with “corporate media.” In another article, his wife, Casey DeSantis, gave an emotional account of her battle with breast cancer. His last ad suggested that God created DeSantis to be a fighter.
In a test of political appeal outside of Florida, DeSantis has spent the fall playing for Republican candidates on battlegrounds across the country, sometimes landing in cities where Trump also calls voters. At those events, DeSantis has consistently drawn more crowds than any Republican figure this year (excluding Trump). DeSantis also garnered a flurry of support in key races in the final weeks, including the Republican nomination of Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, who has said he will not support it in 2024 Trump.
“Big mistake!” Trump responded to his endorsement on his TRUTH social platform last month.
Election night brought more certainty to DeSantis than it did four years ago, when Republicans were forced to wait to return. In the closest race for governor in state history, he went on to beat Democrat Andrew Gillum in a recount.
The result will have big implications for Florida and DeSantis. In his first four years, DeSantis pushed a divisive agenda that included new restrictions on abortion, a massive expansion of school vouchers for private schools, reshaping how schools teach and talk about LGBTQ topics and racism laws, as well as banning coronavirus vaccination requirements. He orchestrated flights to transport immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, refused to help the federal government distribute Covid-19 vaccines to children, and pushed for the state A radical partisan redrawing of congressional borders has divided a seated black Democratic constituency.
His actions have often divided him with the Biden administration, but they have repeatedly thrust him into the national spotlight, making him one of the GOP’s best-known elected officials and leading to steady demand from conservative media.
On Tuesday, DeSantis singled out two counties that appear to have changed from blue to red, Miami-Dade, which has a predominantly Latino population, and Palm Beach, the Democratic stronghold.
“I am honored to have earned your trust and support,” he said.
On the road to victory, DeSantis built an unprecedented cash advantage over Crist and his $31 million campaign. Half of the $200 million DeSantis raised came from donations of $50,000 or more, although he also received tens of thousands of dollars in small donations from around the country. As of Nov. 3, DeSantis had $66 million unused between his two political committees. Sources close to the governor’s team previously told CNN that DeSantis’ political campaign has explored how to use the remaining campaign funds for a federal campaign.
Crist struggled to gain traction after winning the primary with state agriculture commissioner Nicky Freed in late August. His campaign was further hampered by the arrival of Hurricane Ian in September, which brought the campaign to a screeching halt and delayed planned rallies and fundraisers with Biden, as well as the campaign’s only scheduled debate. Biden, who praised DeSantis’ handling of Ian during a joint appearance at Fort Myers Beach, didn’t do Crist any favors.
Crist tried to turn DeSantis’ well-known political ambitions into a campaign issue. In their only debate, Crist challenged DeSantis to swear that if re-elected governor, he would serve four years. DeSantis refused. DeSantis talks about his future political ambitions in the canned line he appears to have read a paper: “The only old battered donkey I hope to graze is Charlie Crist.”
In a second term, DeSantis has pledged to revoke the license to carry firearms and further “expand protections for life,” although he did not outline what those might be.
DeSantis was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. He was re-elected twice, though he resigned early for a third term after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018. DeSantis defeated a more establishment-backed candidate from Trump in that primary with endorsement support.
This story has been updated with more information on Tuesday.