- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Look for a Donald Trump-themed campaign for Florida governor from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, whose first campaign rally here Monday included several mentions of the president’s support and a comparison of Republican-controlled Tallahassee to the Washington “swamp” that Trump famously pledged to drain.
Although he has the Twitter blessing of the president and a finance committee that includes Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other GOP heavyweights, DeSantis cast himself as a political outsider and invoked Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s establishment-defying rise to the GOP nomination in 2010.
DeSantis announced his candidacy on Fox News on Jan. 5, but hadn’t held a campaign rally until the one Monday in Boca Raton. The event, held in front of a crowd of hundreds, included several of Trump’s earliest Palm Beach County supporters and Karen Giorno, the state director for Trump’s 2016 Florida primary campaign.
“He is a MAGA candidate for sure … I believe he has the support of the MAGA base here,” said Giorno, using the abbreviation for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“Ron DeSantis is a true conservative. He’s a real Republican. Our president endorsed him and he will work with our president,” said Sue Snowden, who was volunteer co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Palm Beach County.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, was among those introducing DeSantis. In a nod to Florida’s growing Puerto Rican vote, Puerto Rican Delegate Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon also spoke at the rally.
DeSantis, 39, is a former Yale baseball captain and Harvard Law graduate who served as a U.S. Navy attorney in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay before winning three congressional terms representing a northeast Florida district. He got a boost in December when Trump, taxiing on Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport, tweeted that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”
The Republican race to succeed the term-limited Scott already includes Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, is expected to join the fray in the spring. DeSantis didn’t mention either rival, but took aim at the city where they work.
“Gov. Scott, when he ran, he defeated all the insiders in Tallahassee in 2010. So I think looking at his success, we Republicans, we can’t have the insiders pick the candidate in 2018. We need someone that’s going to continue to follow Rick Scott’s legacy,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis, who frequently appears on Fox News to defend the Trump agenda, devoted much of his Monday speech to highlighting his support for conservative causes in Washington. He mentioned the the $1.5 trillion tax cut signed by Trump last month, the fight against ISIS, term limits and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Touching on Florida issues, DeSantis spoke in favor of more vocational training as an alternative to college and citizenship education in public schools so students learn about the U.S. Constitution and get “a sense of what it means to be an American.” He pledged to appoint conservative judges and to fight the drug epidemic with tough enforcement against dealers and “comfort and support for those who are battling addiction.”
DeSantis said he opposes offshore oil drilling and favors continued Everglades restoration efforts.
He also tried to adapt Trump’s 2016 “Drain the swamp” message to Tallahassee, where Republicans have controlled the Florida Legislature and governor’s mansion for two decades.
“Washington, D.C., is no doubt the proverbial swamp but if you look at some of the news that has come out of Tallahassee over the last several months, I think it’s clear that there’s also a cultural problem in Tallahassee that needs to change. And just as I’m rooted working to root out harassment in Washington, I support Gov. Scott’s efforts to do the same in Tallahassee,” DeSantis said, referring to sex scandals that led to the resignations of two state Senators in recent months.
Asked why he chose Boca Raton, hundreds of miles from his home base, to do his first major campaign event, DeSantis said: “We wanted to get outside the district and show that we have support throughout the state.”