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Ron DeSantis: Momentum — and planning — for 2024 bid takes off after resounding Florida win

Ron DeSantis: Momentum — and planning — for 2024 bid takes off after resounding Florida win

Ron DeSantis: Momentum — and planning — for 2024 bid takes off after resounding Florida win


Tampa, Florida
CNN

Amid growing chatter about his political future and in the face of recent outbursts, he set his sights on a path from an increasingly troubled Donald TrumpFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis rarely involved in speculation or mudslinging. He insisted on winning by declaration in his bid for a second term, which is needed to precede any debate in 2024.

On Tuesday night, that statement came in the form of a A convincing 19-point victory over Democrat Charlie Crist — the narrowest victory by a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida history and a margin that dwarfed Trump’s own victory in the Sunshine State in 2020. Within minutes of the polls closing, DeSantis’ party in Tampa erupted into euphoria on election night as the totality and breadth of his performance began to crystallize. DeSantis turned once staunchly blue counties red, won a majority of Latino voters and carried Republican candidates up and down ballots and in every corner of the state.

“We not only won the election, we rewrote the political map,” DeSantis told supporters before confetti rained down on him and his family. Some in the crowd urged him to consider the White House offer, chanting, “Two more years!”

The outcome in Florida was a bright spot for Republicans, who had otherwise been waiting for the red wave that never came and watched Trump-backed candidates flounder in key battlegrounds. And the backlash within the GOP has only fueled more momentum for DeSantis to run for president and face Trump next year.

“DeFuture,” read Wednesday’s front page of the New York Post, owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Republicans were particularly encouraged by the result in Latino-majority Miami-Dade County, where DeSantis won 55 percent of the vote, for what it could suggest about the governor’s ability to engage and message Latino communities across the country. A GOP gubernatorial candidate hasn’t won the district in two decades. A CNN exit poll showed DeSantis with an 18-point lead over Cristo among Florida’s Latino voters, a turnaround from his first campaign for governor four years ago.

Inside Florida, DeSantis’ allies are already rallying about what’s next. Even before Election Day, there was a strong sense among those in his orbit that DeSantis was likely to launch a presidential campaign regardless of whether Trump did the same. Multiple sources told CNN that DeSantis has privately suggested to donors in recent months that Trump’s divisiveness is an obstacle to enacting conservative priorities, a significant shift in how the governor has discussed his former ally.

After Tuesday, more Republicans went public suggesting that the former president’s influence is dragging the GOP down. One source close to DeSantis’ political operation told CNN he expects the governor to make a decision “shortly after the inauguration” in January, though he may not make it public.

DeSantis, the source added, “must take action” and capitalize on Trump’s failure in the midterms.

However, the timing of the 2024 campaign launch, if it happens, remains up in the air. When reports first emerged that Trump intended to launch his presidential campaign in mid-November, those in DeSantis’ circle braced for the possibility of a quick turnaround from the midterms to the presidential primary showdown. Now, several consultants in Florida say DeSantis likely won’t formally jump into the presidential field until state lawmakers meet for their annual legislative session. That would put DeSantis on the May or June announcement timeline.

“Build anticipation,” said one longtime Republican fundraiser with knowledge of DeSantis’ operation. “I think DeSantis controls the timeline. As much as everyone is predicting things and if you want to move quickly, he’s making the decisions now.”

Even those with access to DeSantis caution that he has not made a final decision about his future and say he has maintained a tight circle as he weighs his options. The governor’s brain trust is notoriously small. It consists of him and his wife Casey. But sources said the DeSantises are also hyper aware that he has a 2024 window to move, and while it expanded after Tuesday, it may not stay open forever.

“You’re having a moment,” one GOP pollster told CNN before Election Day. “Something could come up in the second term that would bring him down.”

The intrigue surrounding a potential Trump-DeSantis showdown reached the White House on Wednesday. Asked which of the two Republican rivals will be the stronger competitor in 2024. President Joe Biden remarked, “It would be fun to watch them fight each other.”

Multiple sources told CNN that DeSantis will organize a legislative session full of conservative priorities that he can carry over to the GOP presidential primary. Republicans won large majorities in both houses of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, allowing DeSantis to follow through on promises to further restrict abortions and make it easier to carry firearms in public.

The legislative session will be “as red meat as you can imagine,” a GOP consultant said. “Whatever he proposes, they will pass it and it will become law.”

The Republican fundraiser said that “anything ‘woke’ they find to kill in their path, they will do so,” and predicted that financial institutions, in particular, would be targeted by DeSantis this spring.

In the meantime, DeSantis will continue to build a political operation that has already proven it can raise money on an impressive record. His re-election effort brought in more than $200 million between his two political committees, according to state campaign finance reports, drawing money from deep-pocketed donors and Republicans to break national fundraising records for a gubernatorial campaign. As of Nov. 3, those committees had $66 million in unspent money. CNN previously published that DeSantis’ political team looked into how to transfer unused money to a federal committee that could support a presidential campaign. That remains the plan, sources confirmed.

He is also expected to continue political travel outside the state to raise money and develop his brand. After avoiding public events outside of Florida for much of his first term, DeSantis took a calculated gamble in August to hold rallies in support of Republican candidates in some of the nation’s most contested races for governor and US Senate. He continued to travel until 10 days before the election.

However, DeSantis has largely stuck to the midterm battlegrounds and avoided early naming states where an appearance could trigger presidential buzz. Stephen Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said DeSantis’ political operation had refused multiple requests to reach out to voters there and that the state GOP had had “virtually no contact with the governor.” Despite the hype surrounding DeSantis, Stepanek predicted the Florida governor will have a tough time beating Trump in the state’s primary in New Hampshire. Trump’s victory in the 2016 New Hampshire primary served as a springboard for his victory in the GOP nomination.

“People not only still have their signs for 2020, but they also have signs for 2024,” Stepanek said. “This is still Trump country here in New Hampshire.”

Despite Tuesday’s headwinds, DeSantis still faces an uphill battle to win over GOP primary voters whose loyalty to Trump has not wavered.

At home, Republicans are divided but appear to favor DeSantis. While 33% of Florida voters want Trump to run again in 2024, 45% said DeSantis should drop out, according to preliminary results Florida exit poll conducted for CNN and other news networks by Edison Research.

JC Martin, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party, said it would be futile for DeSantis to run against Trump because “he still has a lot of work to do in Florida and he’s ready for 2028.”

“I’m not looking for an all-out party war in the next primary,” Martin said.

But Shawn Foster, the Republican state committeeman for Pasco County, said the GOP “needs a new face” and hopes it’s DeSantis.

“I think the party needs it, and I think independents would be looking for it more,” Foster said.

Nationally, DeSantis must avoid the perception that he’s peaking too soon, a pitfall for countless GOP stars who came before him.

“When people talk about DeSantis today, I talk about Scott Walker,” Bob Vander Plaats, an influential early-nominating Iowa conservative leader, told CNN earlier this year, drawing comparisons to the former Wisconsin governor who was the early frontrunner in 2016. than his campaign stopped.

Like Walker, DeSantis’ agenda has won over conservative editorial boards and Beltway think tanks. He relishes confrontations with the press, flaunting a brash style similar to the one that endeared New Jersey’s Chris Christie to many GOP voters. He has built a fundraising machine to rival Florida’s Jeb Bush.

All those past governors acted on presidential ambitions; Trump crushed their dreams.

“If you’re actually going into a presidential primary with Donald Trump and you think you’re going to crush him, you’ve got another thing coming,” one Republican consultant in Florida told CNN.

Trump publicly lashed out at DeSantis in the final days of the midterm cycle, while privately overseeing the former political apprentice’s perceived disloyalty. He nicknamed DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious” at an event Saturday in Pennsylvania and held a rally in Miami two days before the election without inviting the home state governor.

DeSantis refused to commit and instead held competing rallies on the opposite coast of Florida.

In an interview before Election Day, Trump warned of a challenge from DeSantis.

“I don’t know if he is running. “I think if he runs, he could get hurt a lot,” Trump said Fox News Digital interview. “I think he would make a mistake. I don’t think the base would like that – I don’t think it would be good for the party… I would tell you things about him that would not be very flattering.”

Trump later downplayed Tuesday’s election results, noting that he received “more votes” than DeSantis in Florida in 2020. Presidential races tend to have much higher turnout than midterms, and Trump’s margin of victory over Biden was about 3 points.

It will be increasingly difficult for DeSantis to avoid talking about Trump and 2024 in the coming weeks, although he may try. On Wednesday morning, DeSantis, his voice hoarse from a demanding schedule of campaign finals and election night celebrations, held a news conference to update Floridians on Tropical Storm Nicole.

DeSantis did not mention the election results. And he left without asking.

This story has been updated with additional reactions.



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