Backed by the Twitter praise of President Donald Trump and a finance team loaded with national heavyweights, Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis launched a 2018 bid for Florida governor on Friday.
DeSantis joins well-financed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a GOP primary that could also include House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, who says he’ll announce his plans after the legislative session in March.
DeSantis, a three-term congressman who has been eyeing a gubernatorial run for months, saw his profile elevated on Dec. 22 when Trump, while taxiing on Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport, tweeted that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida.”
DeSantis invoked the president and one of Trump’s 2016 campaign catchphrases while announcing his candidacy on the president’s favorite network Friday.
“As you remember a few weeks ago, the president tweeted support for me as a candidate for governor of Florida,” DeSantis said on the Fox and Friends morning show. “So today, we’re going to be filing the paperwork to begin that effort.
“As somebody who’s a military officer, Iraq veteran, a proven conservative and then with the support of the president,” he said, “I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Gov. Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education and drain the swamp in Tallahassee, which needs to be drained just like Washington.”
Putnam’s campaign quickly blasted DeSantis as a “Washington insider” and derided his announcement “from an empty TV studio to broadcasters in New York” while Putnam launched his campaign in May in front of 2,000 supporters at a picturesque outdoor rally in his hometown of Bartow.
Putnam served five U.S. House terms before winning the first of two elections for agriculture commissioner in 2010.
A spokesman for Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC, Taylor Budowich, said the field of candidates for governor “is clearly lacking someone with Speaker Corcoran’s long list of conservative accomplishments and proven record of less talk and more action.”
DeSantis, 39, served in the Navy Judge Advocate General Corps at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. Elected to the House from the Jacksonville area in 2012, he opened a 2016 campaign for Senate after Republican Sen. Marco Rubio launched a presidential campaign. DeSantis dropped out when Rubio decided to seek re-election.
Putnam began this month with $16.25 million in cash on hand between his campaign and his Florida Grown political committee.
A committee expected to back DeSantis, the Fund For Florida’s Future, began 2018 with about $2.5 million in its bank account. DeSantis’ congressional committee has about $1.7 million in cash that can be transferred to the governor’s race.
DeSantis last week announced a finance team that includes Republican mega donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, prominent Christian conservative donor Foster Friess and Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and head of a foundation that dispenses millions to Republican and conservative causes.
Some prominent Palm Beach County figures are also on DeSantis’s finance team, including billionaire investor Thomas Peterffy, longtime GOP activist Gay Gaines of Palm Beach, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and pro-Israel donors Lothar and Carlyn Mayer of Boca Raton.
While eager to associate himself with Trump, DeSantis told Fox News on Friday that he disagrees with a Trump administration proposal to open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling. Scott and Rubio and other Republicans have joined Democrats in criticizing the idea.
“I agree with Gov. Scott,” on opposing drilling, DeSantis said on Fox and Friends. “In Florida our coastline is so important to our economy, it’s important to property values, it’s important to tourism. And we need to protect our coastline. … And you know what? I think this is just a draft proposal and I think that the White House will ultimately be with us and I think we’ll be able to work it out so that Florida’s beaches will be protected.”
Putnam has voiced “grave concerns about drilling off of Florida’s coastlines,” and said: “I stand with Governor Scott in support of his efforts to remove Florida from this proposal, and I’ll do everything we can to protect what makes Florida special.”