There are still nearly 10 months to go before Florida voters elect their next governor, but incumbent Republican Ron DeSantis’ campaign appears to be well underway.
In a red-meat-for-grassroots speech at the opening of the Florida legislature last week, themed on the concept of freedom but described by critics as a fanfare of authoritarianism, DeSantis gave a clear indication of the problems that he thinks is on voters minds. They include fighting the White House against Covid-19, ballot box fraud, critical race theory in schools and defunding law enforcement.
Yet, faced with opponents of Donald Trump’s protege, who is tipped for his own presidential race in 2024, DeSantis has chosen to focus on issues that don’t exist in Florida, either to distract from real priorities or to strengthen the Trumpist base and improve on his narrow victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum in 2018.
We have real issues that need to be addressed, and the governor is suing the boogeymen, said Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democratic state representative and frequent critic of DeSantis.
We have an affordable housing crisis with exorbitant rent increases of up to 30% that people cannot afford. We have property insurance rates going up. We have a health crisis with 22,000 Floridians with disabilities who are on the waiting list to get the services they deserve.
And Governor DeSantis is focused on fighting revival in the 2022 legislative session, with the Stop Woke Act. He wants to focus on challenging critical racial theories in our schools. That does not exist. It’s not even a thing.
A flurry of criticism followed DeSantiss’s speech, which came at the start of a 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee in which Republicans will also pursue a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi under the guise of reducing fetal and infant mortality.
DeSantis said the proposal, which has no exceptions for rape or incest, is very reasonable.
But it’s his anti-mask approach to Covid-19 and his constant feud with Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci that DeSantis seems most proud of, praising Florida as the freest state for its ban on authoritarian, arbitrary and arbitrary mandates. seemingly endless. .
While so many across the country have relegated peoples’ rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood at the forefront of freedoms, DeSantis insisted. On Thursday, Florida’s death toll from Covid-19 topped 63,000.
Floridians are exhausted from the politicization of Covid-19, Smith said. They are tired of fighting for masks, they are tired of fighting for vaccines. And they are tired of the governor continuing to focus on these culture wars that do nothing to promote the prosperity of our state.
It was the Omicron-fueled push that sent states’ coronavirus counts soaring nearly 950% that caused more controversy over the past holiday, when critics accused DeSantis of being missing.
The Governors press team inadvertently added to Where’s Ron? confusion by posting photos on social media of him from two weeks ago in a bagel shop, insisted it was his prerogative to take a few days off if he wanted to, then regrouped to attack anyone who suggested he was taking a vacation.
DeSantis reappeared after a 13-day absence to say he attended chemotherapy sessions with his wife, Casey, who has breast cancer.
The first weeks of the new year, in which he will seek his second term, perhaps as a stepping stone to a likely presidential election in 2024, have also been bumpy. Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner Democrat and potential opponent in November, accused the DeSantis administration of storing about 1 million Covid-19 tests in a warehouse as they expired, which officials of the state later admitted was true after earlier denials.
And a scheduled press briefing in Jacksonville was abruptly postponed after the unseemly sight of a peaceful, disabled black community activist being taken away in handcuffs and cited for trespassing after asking to speak to DeSantis about his coronavirus policy.
No, it’s not from 1955. It’s from an hour ago. During the Governors’ press conference, Democratic State Assemblywoman Michele Rayner tweeted, noting that Ben Frazier, founder of Jacksonvilles Northside Coalition, was also denied use of his electric scooter.
A black man dared to refuse to leave until he met the governor. From what I understand, he was not disrespectful. But you know that Ronnie can’t stand any criticism.
Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantiss, said in a statement that Frazier had a history of disruptive behavior and entered a secure facility, even though the meeting was held in a public building.
Critics say that while DeSantis promoted the right of citizens to make their own decisions, he became increasingly authoritarian. It stripped local authorities of the powers needed to launch coronavirus mitigation efforts and barred school districts from imposing mask mandates.
In South Florida in particular, schools say they are struggling to cope with staffing shortages and student absences.
A self-proclaimed governor of law and order, DeSantis has also offered unvaccinated cops a $5,000 bounty to move to Florida and plans a state paramilitary force outside of federal control. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, another possible opponent in November, accused DeSantis of wanting his own hand-picked secret police.
Democrats, however, admit they face challenges to unseat DeSantis, a heavy frontrunner for re-election in last year’s polls. Florida’s restrictive new voting rights law limits drop boxes and mail-in ballots, and Democrats were recently overtaken by registered Republican voters for the first time.
Analysts say DeSantis also has the advantage of a strong state economy, alongside his pugnacious leadership style.
DeSantis is, for many Republicans, the Florida incarnation of Donald Trump, his successor, his alter ego, his clone, call him what you will, said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida .
He’s certainly very close to Trump’s style, that straightforward critical stance he’s taken on many issues, which has rooted him with Republicans. But the GOP in Florida makes up just under 40% of the electorate, so to win a statewide race you need to appeal to independent voters unaffiliated with any party.
How do you appeal to those when you’re running a campaign trying to punch other people in the face, so to speak? This can play well with your base but not so well, especially with independents.
Paulson, however, sees an uphill battle for Democrats. With each election cycle, you really appeal to a whole new electorate. When you add the factor of older people in Florida, people dying and being replaced by newcomers to the state and younger people, it’s hard to predict how they’ll line up, he said. .
Right now the advantage is clearly Republican. But all sorts of things could quickly change. It could be an emerging political issue, or an emerging politician, the two most important things to affect Florida politics.
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