A weakened DeSantis returns to Florida to campaign


Against this backdrop, DeSantis on Thursday brought his campaign to downtown Tampa, less than an hour from the governor’s hometown of Dunedin, to roll out a slew of endorsements from local police and sheriffs. During the hourlong stop, DeSantis touched on many of the same themes he’s touted during his years as governor: He characterized San Francisco as a drug-ridden hellhole, attacked the media and its “phony narratives,” denounced “Soros-funded” prosecutors and criticized President Joe Biden over the southern border.

But those familiar lines faced an uneasy audience. DeSantis also took some skeptical questions from voters and reporters, including whether he has more support in Florida than Trump, who is currently at his winter home at Mar-a-Lago in south Florida.

“He won by three, I won by 20,” DeSantis replied, referencing how much Trump won Florida in the 2020 election and his own 2022 reelection margin of victory.

The Tampa event veered from DeSantis’ usual campaign schedule, which has focused especially heavily on Iowa, with plans to reach all 99 counties in the state. DeSantis has plans to return to Iowa Saturday through Monday to campaign alongside Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting his bid for president.

Besides campaigning, DeSantis has another reason to be in Florida: money. He attended a campaign lunch in Tampa, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and was then was scheduled to hold a fundraiser in Miami on Thursday evening, hosted by Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and other former and current state elected officials, the Miami Herald first reported.

DeSantis has repeatedly leaned on Florida for campaign cash, including through lobbyists and other longtime supporters. His campaign raised $15 million during the third quarter, and while campaign manager James Uthmeier billed the haul as a tally that would “shut down the doubters,” only a third of it can be used for the GOP primary due to contribution limits.

“You can’t raise money in Iowa, which is probably the only reason DeSantis wouldn’t be there,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Judging by his weak financial shape, he’s going to have to spend a lot of this month raising money.”

But DeSantis still has his fans in Florida. Former Sen. George Lemieux (R-Fla.), a DeSantis donor, said it takes a long time to get national attention and was confident the governor could still win the nomination.

“There are no overnight successes, it takes hard work,” he said. “I’ve always thought that good governing is the best form of politics.”

In Florida, DeSantis has more endorsements from state lawmakers than Trump does, though the former president has the backing of the vast majority of the state’s GOP congressional delegation. DeSantis also has collected support from more than 300 state lawmakers in other states. In recent weeks, he has also been more aggressively chiding Trump.

But it hasn’t been enough to undercut Trump’s tremendous popularity, even as the former president faces indictments in four different jurisdictions — something DeSantis didn’t mention Thursday other than to mock his rival’s more considerable campaign war chest as mostly going toward lawyers’ fees.

In response, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said DeSantis had “the energy of a used wet rag.”

“This is nothing more than a desperate attempt of a flailing candidate who is in the last throes of his campaign,” he said, pointing to Trump’s polling advantages including against Biden. “This tough guy routine from DeSantis is laughable, because the only thing tough about him is his ability to consistently embarrass himself every single day on the campaign trail.”

Faced with viability questions from donors and the press, DeSantis’ campaign officials have repeatedly said that a strong showing in Iowa will help narrow the field to a two-person race. But DeSantis is still far behind Trump in that state. He’s also facing complaints from New Hampshire officials who warn against ignoring the Granite State.

The DeSantis campaign will soon be relocating a large number of staff to Iowa with just over three months to go until the Jan. 15 caucus. DeSantis said Thursday that he thought he’d win the state — though his campaign previously lowered expectations and said a “strong second” would be laudable — while also downplaying national polls.

His allies likewise dismiss surveys showing DeSantis losing. Bob Emerson, president of the South Shore GOP Club who attended the event in Tampa, said it’s still too early to anoint a winner.

“Polls are polls but we haven’t had a one primary yet. It’s a long game,” Emerson said.


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