Even Without DeSantis’ Support Florida Republicans Are Tethered To Him

The Republican candidates for Congress in Florida this year have not received governor Ron DeSantis’ support. However, it hasn’t prevented GOP candidates from associating themselves with him. DeSantis’ image is being used in mailings, TV advertising, and debate mentions by Republicans running for Congress and numerous others in down-ballot contests in the lead-up to the Aug. 23 primary.

DeSantis’ use in Republican races is comparable to, and occasionally even exceeds, that of former President Donald Trump, who has given congressional endorsements in a number of Florida campaigns. Conservative state representative Anthony Sabatini stated, “The country is running out of time and we need people with attitude in D.C.,” at a recent congressional discussion sponsored by the governor and held in Tampa during the Republican Party of Florida’s summer convention.

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Sabatini recently sent out a mailer that included a giant portrait of DeSantis with the words “Sabatini has been the most trusted ally of the Governor DeSantis agenda” splashed over it. Sabatini is vying for Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s (D-Fla.) seat in central Florida in a contentious GOP primary.

Due to his anti-lockdown stances on COVID-19, his combativeness with the Biden administration and the media, and his struggles on everything from critical race theory to gender identity and immigration, DeSantis’ brand is scorching hot among Republicans in Florida. He is either neck-and-neck with Trump in recent GOP voter polls or the party’s front-runner to succeed the outgoing president. Around $130 million has been raised for DeSantis’ political war fund, including from numerous national donors who also support Trump.

Republicans in Florida consider DeSantis to be somewhat of a kingmaker. With the intention of consolidating power within the GOP-led Florida Legislature and beyond, including in school board elections, he has used his influence to advance his political supporters in the state. Laurel Lee, his former secretary of state, entered the campaign for a new congressional district in the Tampa Bay region, but DeSantis hasn’t openly endorsed any of them. “Laurel Lee is the only candidate trusted by Gov. DeSantis to safeguard our elections for Congress,” reads the opening line of Lee’s first campaign television advertisement.

“It’s part of everyone’s presentation to voters, but in my case, it isn’t fiction,” said Lee, who served as the state’s top elections official after DeSantis appointed him back in 2019. Republican voters in their party want to know whether candidates support both DeSantis and Trump, according to James Blair, a Republican consultant working on the congressional campaigns of Anna Paulina Luna and Cory Mills. Both of the Florida men are regarded as party leaders.

“Republican primary voters strongly support Gov. DeSantis and President Trump, and it is unquestionably significant if they are in their camp,” Blair said. “Voters need an answer to that important question,” This year, the congressional delegation from Florida is likely to include more Republicans. Florida gained a 28th seat as a result of population growth, and DeSantis forced through the Legislature a congressional redistricting plan that eliminated one Black Democrat-held district in North Florida.

Republicans currently have a 16-11 advantage in the state, but the new map may give them up to four extra seats, giving them a 20-8 advantage. The map is being contested in court, but the outcome won’t be known until after this year’s election. The new map has produced numerous wide-open seats that have drawn a big list of contenders. This is due in part to Democratic incumbents choosing to run for other posts or retire entirely. DeSantis personally raised awareness of the elections by hosting four debates at the GOP conference in Tampa. DeSantis posed some of the queries in two of the debates.

DeSantis hasn’t contested any of the congressional candidates in the open. However, the DeSantis team intervened to voice its displeasure over a candidate mentioning the governor in a Miami-Dade school board contest. Last week, a lawyer for the governor’s campaign delivered a cease-and-desist letter to the leader of a political group backing a Miami-Dade school board member named Marta Perez after a mailer featuring a photo of Perez and DeSantis was distributed to voters.

The cease-and-desist letter said that the mailer gave the impression that the governor backed Perez, as first reported by News Service of Florida. DeSantis had previously backed Monica Colucci, a longtime teacher and former staff member of Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuez, who is Perez’s opponent.

In another incident, which was originally reported by POLITICO, Erick Aguilar, a candidate for a congressional seat in northeast Florida, sent out fundraising emails that gave the idea that donors were supporting DeSantis and other Republican candidates. Republicans’ preferred online fundraising tool WinRed came to the conclusion that the emails were deceptive and suspended Aguilar from the program.

In response to a question regarding endorsements and people who are promoting their connections to the governor, DeSantis’ reelection campaign only stated that “voters shouldn’t be subjected to dishonest techniques that give a phony impression of an endorsement.” The campaign chose not to provide more commentary.

Democratic candidates are leveraging their opposition to the governor as a selling pitch, while Republicans struggle to emphasize their ties to the well-liked governor. During the initial phase of the Covid-19 outbreak, Jared Moskowitz served as the state’s emergency management chief under DeSantis. He is currently the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

Even though he recognized that his opponents constantly bringing up the governor, Moskowitz’s momentum doesn’t seem to have been affected by the attacks. In an interview, Moskowitz remarked, “I wish my opponents would spend more time explaining to voters why they should vote for them in Congress rather than denigrating my work in disaster management.

At least one Democratic candidate for Congress is likewise leveraging cherished party figures to increase his own election chances. Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who is running for the Senate, will be replaced by former House member Alan Grayson. Recently, Grayson sent out a mailer with images and statements from the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend, as well as President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Grayson defended himself using the images and statements, including one from Lewis, who passed away more than two years ago. Grayson is running in a contest with multiple Black primary opponents. He claimed that he chose to quote Democratic figures “who knew me well,” including those with whom he had previously worked. He said that “Congressman Lewis’ words about me didn’t change just because of his untimely death, any more than the Gettysburg Address vanished upon Lincoln’s death.

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