Once Florida's favorite son, Floridians turn on DeSantis in his bid for president

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit on Nov. 4, 2023 in Kissimmee, Fla.

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Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit on Nov. 4, 2023 in Kissimmee, Fla.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

The Republican presidential field continues to narrow and former President Donald Trump has held on to a commanding lead ahead of primary contests. That includes a sizable lead in Florida — where one of his lead opponents, Ron DeSantis, is the governor.

Despite winning a landslide election in the state two years ago, DeSantis hasn’t been able to win over enough base GOP voters there. That includes Victor Alvarez and Sally Maltais — who attended Trump’s recent rally in Hialeah, Fla. Both said they think Trump has next year’s election pretty much locked up.

“I believe Trump will win in ’24 and it’s not going to be an issue of somebody else running,” Alvarez said. “He’s ahead in the polls right now and he has not gone to any of the Republican debates. Think about that.”

Some of the Republican candidates running against Trump are barely averaging one percent support in the polls, which Maltais said she can’t see changing

“They should drop out … and support Trump,” she said, confidently, “because Trump — Trump’s got it.”

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Maltais says that includes her governor. She said she supported and voted for DeSantis when he ran to lead the state for the first time a few years ago.

“I’m a little upset that he’s out campaigning as president because I voted for him to do a job here as governor,” she explained. “And while he’s out campaigning, he’s not doing his governorship job. And I’m not the only Floridian that feels that way. And we need him back here to govern. That’s what we elected him for.”

Alvarez said he agrees. Ultimately, he likes the job that DeSantis has done as governor. He said he’s been a “good governor,” but he shouldn’t have jumped into the presidential election when Trump was already in.

Maltais said DeSantis’ decision is particularly egregious because Trump helped DeSantis win the first time he ran for Florida governor.

“He backstabbed our president,” she said. “And now I have no respect for DeSantis. I’m sorry. I don’t.”

“I won’t vote for him again.”

Attendees show their support for former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Hialeah, Fla., on Nov. 8.

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Attendees show their support for former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Hialeah, Fla., on Nov. 8.

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Trump currently has more than a 30 point lead over DeSantis in his own state. That lead hasn’t changed significantly since the governor jumped into the race for president.

Republican state Rep. Randy Fine has been one of DeSantis’ most vocal supporters in the Florida Legislature. But recently he announced he’s backing Trump in the GOP primary.

Fine is the only Jewish Republican in the legislature and he says he’s been unimpressed with DeSantis’ response to the Hamas attack against Israel last month, which was a breaking point for him. He says he just can’t support DeSantis’ presidential bid anymore.

“I don’t think he’s been a bad governor,” Fine told NPR. “I think he’s generally done well. It’s just on a lot of these issues related to Jewish Floridians, he’s broken my heart.

“I don’t see him winning,” he added.

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In a statement, Bryan Griffin — a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign — said the governor “has nearly universal support in the Florida legislature, where they have worked with him first-hand and know he can offer the same record of accomplishment to the country.”

Republican state Rep. Mike Caruso echoed that and said most of his Republican colleagues stand by DeSantis.

“He’s led the way from day one,” he said. “And I’m kind of disappointed that those few colleagues, the few members that have switched over to Trump’s campaign.”

Caruso says he also thinks DeSantis has a strong record supporting Jewish Floridians. And, he says, he thinks more voters in Florida – and across the country — will soon start backing his governor as well.

After all, he said, it’s still too early in the primary election to completely rule out DeSantis.

“I think that as other candidates drop out, I think those votes will go towards Governor DeSantis,” he predicted. “He’s just got to wait it out and keep working hard and campaigning hard.”

Ultimately, Fine says, he doesn’t have a big issue with DeSantis spending time running for president. In fact, he said it makes sense if you look at the political reality that Florida’s governor finds himself in.

DeSantis is currently in his second and final term as governor. He can’t run again because Florida has term limits.

“I think that’s part of the reason why he did run,” Fine explained. “He wanted to run for president as the governor of Florida and not as the former governor of Florida.”

In this Jan. 22, 2019, photo, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. (not pictured), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speak to the media after their meeting with then-President Donald Trump about Venezuela, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

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In this Jan. 22, 2019, photo, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. (not pictured), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speak to the media after their meeting with then-President Donald Trump about Venezuela, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

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DeSantis has already served as a member of Congress and Fine said a U.S. Senate bid is a longshot.

“I mean, Rick Scott is our senator,” he said. “Marco Rubio is our senator. I don’t see either of them going anywhere. And so there’s no kind of obvious off ramp for him to go when his term as governor is finished.”

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