Scripps News spoke with State Representative Anna Eskamani for Florida's 42nd District and Chairman of the Alachua County Republican Party Tim Martin to discuss Governor Ron DeSantis throwing his hat in the presidential election ring.
Rep. Eskamani, who is a Democrat, says it's no surprise Gov. DeSantis was going to join the 2024 election lineup.
"This was the worst-kept secret in the country. Clearly, Gov. Ron DeSantis was setting himself up to run for president. So we've been raising the alarms; you know, Florida is the canary in the coal mine. We want the American people to know how disastrous DeSantis' leadership has been in our state, whether it's banning abortion at 6 weeks, attacking LGBTQ+ people, ignoring the affordability crisis from the rising cost of rent to property insurance," she said. "It's our job to make sure the American people understand this is not a strong governor. He's someone who performs as being strong, but the reality on the ground is very different."
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DeSantis is positioned to be the next formidable GOP opponent behind former President Donald Trump. The governor did win re-election by a landslide. So what is it that's resonating with Florida voters? Rep. Eskamani says in the context of Florida, it's more about what Democrats are doing wrong than what DeSantis is doing right. But when it comes to DeSantis' placement in the Republican primary, she says he’s doing whatever he can to appeal to the hyperconservative base of voters.
"He's done that by dragging the state with him. All of these different policy issues that I talked about, they don’t appeal to the everyday Florida," Eskamani said. "In fact, 10 Republicans voted against a bill that attacked public unions, seven Republicans voted against the abortion ban, so, we actually see some splintering of the Republican Party in Florida. But of course, that doesn't stop DeSantis, who among his base of voters, does seem to have this ultimate seal of approval where the legislature has essentially abdicated their branch of government to the executive branch, which is allowing DeSantis to brand himself as that Trump junior."
DeSantis is consistently trailing Trump in polls. There are a lot of people saying DeSantis pushes the Trump agenda but doesn't actually come with all of the baggage, like legal troubles, that comes with Trump. However, Trump has actually increased in popularity since his indictments came down. Tim Martin says that once DeSantis formally announces his bid, he thinks those numbers will shift.
"Honestly, in the primary in 2020, he was a come-from-behind with Adam Putnam in the primary, and then sort of a come-from-behind candidate with Andrew Gillum, and he was able to overcome both of those," Martin said. "He's a little bit of it overcomer story already, so I don't think that will hinder him too much."
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One narrative around DeSantis is that he's a culture war warrior, making his conservative mark in regards to book bans, trans rights, immigration, and abortion. But another narrative is that while he is intelligent, he can be socially awkward, lacks charisma, and doesn't have the force of personality to go head-to-head with Trump. Martin, though, says he thinks DeSantis will do just fine in the race and that he hasn't personally seen any issues with the governor's personality in interactions.
"From my perspective, I think everything will be fine. I think it's going to have to be something that he becomes good at it, if he really, truly isn't good at it. And he's got a great first lady in Casey DeSantis. She is very personable as well. So, you know, he does have kind of a little bit of the all-American look, and I think that will serve him well," Martin said. "He's got a great team around him. The optics that he has had as governor have been fantastic. Obviously, it's translated: We have 900 people a day moving to Florida right now. So, I think the proof is in the pudding there."
As for the culture warrior persona, Martin says that it has been "a little bit of his marquee so far as governor," and it has worked out for him in the state.
"Because we have a super majority in Tallahassee, I think that obviously plays out," Martin continued. "A lot of things in politics, the scoreboard is the number of races that you win, and right now, he's been very effective in Tallahassee. And I give a lot of credit to the ground game here in Florida. You know, we have surpassed the Democrats in registered voters; I mentioned the super majority. So, you know, those sorts of things are where the game is played out on the field."
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