(Bloomberg) -- Governor Ron DeSantis sidestepped a barb by Donald Trump during the home stretch of his Florida re-election campaign, avoiding a confrontation that seems likely to spill into the open once the 2024 presidential race gets under way.
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DeSantis and the former president held separate rallies in the Sunshine State on Sunday, a day after Trump attacked his potential rival for the Republican nomination at a Pennsylvania event Saturday night as “Ron DeSanctimonious.” DeSantis declined to take the bait while addressing an audience of several hundred at the Sun City Center senior community, instead focusing on his record as governor since 2019.
As Trump prepares for a possible presidential bid in the coming weeks, he’s begun publicly criticizing DeSantis, who most polls show would be his strongest challenger for the 2024 GOP nomination.
Another widely-considered 2024 GOP presidential aspirant, US Senator Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, has decided against making a 2024 presidential run as Trump readies a third campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.
The crowd of mostly senior citizens a few miles outside Tampa wasn’t eager for DeSantis to hit back. Some were frustrated with Trump’s attack.
“I wish he hadn’t done it. I don’t want to see conflict,” said Larry Newland, a retiree from Ruskin, Florida, who was wearing an “I Support Ron DeSantis” t-shirt.
Others seemed to take it in stride. “It’s just Trump being Trump,” said Shari Zara, a volunteer for the Valencia Lakes Republican Committee, who was handing out voter guides before the rally.
At another DeSantis event in a Sarasota airport hangar, the governor also didn’t respond to Trump.
“I think they’re on the same page, but I’d like to see Trump choose DeSantis for vice president or something pretty significant,” said Brandy Pedersen, of Venice, Florida, who attended the airport rally.
On the other side of the state, Trump took the stage later Sunday in Miami at a rally in support of US Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican who leads his Democratic opponent, Representative Val Demings, in the polls.
The former president has routinely taken credit for DeSantis’s election as governor, saying DeSantis “took off like a rocket ship” after Trump endorsed him in 2018. But a simmering rivalry between the two men has become public in recent weeks.
DeSantis broke with Trump in the endorsement of Republican US Senate candidate Joe O’Dea in Colorado, a move that Trump called “A BIG MISTAKE” on his Truth Social platform.
Trump also posted a video on Truth Social on Oct. 26 of former Fox News host Megyn Kelly saying the Florida governor shouldn’t run in 2024 because, while the hardcore Trump faithful like DeSantis, “they would never cross Trump for him.” Trump posted, “I AGREE!”
At the Trump rally, attendee Kim Johnson suggested that DeSantis still has time and that Floridians should keep DeSantis at home for now.
“I personally don’t want to lose Governor DeSantis as my governor,” she said. “So my preference would be to have Donald Trump run, and then Governor DeSantis run four years later.”
Trump didn’t repeat the broadside on DeSantis at the Miami rally, nor did he mention the potential rival.
DeSantis, who faces Democrat Charlie Christ in the governor’s race on Tuesday, spent much of his speech on his record as governor, including his response to the recent Hurricane Ian. He didn’t mention Trump, either.
He boasted about the state’s Covid response and his efforts to police voting, attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and touted Florida as “the citadel of freedom.”
“I’m glad DeSantis didn’t acknowledge that silly attack,” said Marie Vawter, a Sun City resident who’d recently moved from New Jersey. “He’s a strong man, but he still has a sense of decorum.”
--With assistance from Mark Niquette.
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