Ron DeSantis was projected to win reelection Tuesday to a second term as Florida governor, checking off a necessary task prior to a possible run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
With 90 percent of precincts counted, DeSantis was leading Democratic nominee Charlie Crist, a former governor and, until two months ago, a congressman, by 1.5 million votes, or 20 percentage points.
DeSantis is widely expected to run for president in 2024, a goal he essentially confirmed during his debate with Crist three weeks ago when he declined to pledge that he would serve out a full second term as governor if he won.
That likely candidacy has already created friction with former President Donald Trump, who remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party despite his attempted coup to remain in office following his 2020 election loss. Trump is also expected to run again in 2024, at least in part to obtain the protection against criminal prosecution that the presidency affords.
Trump held a rally in Miami on Sunday, inviting Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who was also running for reelection, but not DeSantis ― who was also the only statewide GOP candidate in Florida whom Trump did not endorse this year.
DeSantis, who began aggressively raising money for his unlimited-dollar political committee upon taking office in 2019, finishes his reelection campaign with $60 million left, which he can now use to further build up his name in early voting states on the presidential primary calendar.
DeSantis, who turned 44 last month, was a political novice in 2012 when he ran for Congress in a safe GOP district in the wealthy suburbs of Jacksonville. He quickly became a Fox News favorite, attacking the Barack Obama White House and Democrats generally and soon parlayed that into a run for governor in 2018.
In the Republican primary campaign, he had been running far behind Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, the party establishment favorite who had served in the state legislature and Congress, when he sought out and received an endorsement from then-President Trump. That quickly lifted him into the lead, and he romped to the GOP nomination, although he then barely squeaked past Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum, even though Gillum was under FBI investigation for alleged corruption.
DeSantis spent his first year in office governing as a mainstream Republican before turning back toward the Trumpist wing of the party when COVID-19 hit in early 2020. That approach, appealing to his base but actively antagonizing critics, had him polling just a few points ahead of Crist in September ― until Category 4 Hurricane Ian made landfall at Fort Myers and gave DeSantis nonstop television exposure over the coming weeks. The storm and its aftermath gave him the chance to present himself as a relatively normal Republican leader doing a capable job just as many voters first started paying attention to the race.
In his election night victory speech, though, DeSantis was back to his base-pleasing self. Rather than reach out to Floridians who voted against him, DeSantis bragged about the fights he picks with those who disagree with him. ”We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die,” he said.
This was Crist’s second try as a Democrat to regain the job he held as a Republican from 2007 through 2011. He was the Democratic nominee in 2014, too, when he wound up losing to then-Gov. Rick Scott by 64,000 votes ― a single percentage point.
Crist, as the governor in 2010, tried to run for the U.S. Senate, first as a Republican against Rubio and then as an independent when it became clear Rubio would win the GOP nomination. Rubio, who at the time was out of office after serving as the speaker of the state House, is this fall seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate.
In both his previous runs for the office, Crist was able to raise enormous sums for his campaign but had difficulty this time against DeSantis, as Democratic donors instead turned toward what are seen as more winnable races across the country.
Crist then ran for and won a congressional seat in St. Petersburg in 2016 as a Democrat, winning reelection in 2018 and 2020 before resigning the office on Aug. 31 to focus on the governor’s race.
That congressional district, which was redrawn by Republicans to favor them, is likely to be a GOP pickup in their bid to retake control of the House.