The two campaigns for Florida governor crossed paths in Central Florida on Saturday, with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis rallying in Oviedo and Democrat Charlie Crist holding an event in Orlando.
A raspy-voiced DeSantis made the Oviedo Amphitheatre & Cultural Center his third stop out of four Saturday, as he made his way from Volusia to Pinellas counties.
The governor hit all the familiar notes from the last two years for the crowd of about 2,000, who arrived in rain and stayed as DeSantis talked for almost an hour in the sun.
The mood for this Central Florida rally was different from one he held in Orlando just before the 2018 election, when he was down in the polls to Democrat Andrew Gillum and could only promise he would “fight the good fight [and] finish the race.”
This year, up double digits in the polls over Crist, DeSantis looked back at his narrow victory in 2018 and said, “we came within a half a percentage point of having a much different situation here for the state of Florida, I can tell you that right now. Many of you have moved to Florida in the last four years. Many of you would have moved [out] if I had not won governor. It was very close last election. Don’t take any of this for granted.”
In front of a banner that said “Freedom Lives Here,” DeSantis again praised his policies of having almost no COVID-19 restrictions starting from mid-2020, railing against White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci and hailing his hand-picked surgeon general, Joe Ladapo, for opposing COVID shots for children under 5.
DeSantis also praised what he called “the fastest restoration in history” following Hurricane Ian’s impact on southwest Florida in September.
But his peaceful coexistence with President Biden following the storm, which included a mutual visit to Fort Myers and the governor thanking the president for the federal government’s help, had returned to the status quo with DeSantis calling Biden “a doddering old guy running around” South Florida. The crowd chanted, “Let’s Go Brandon.”
He also played up talk of a potential 2024 run for president with attacks on other states and Democratic governors and candidates.
DeSantis scoffed at the idea that a damaged bridge such as the one rebuilt at Sanibel Island “could have been repaired in three days in New York or California.” He also asked the crowd how many had moved to Florida in the last four years from those states, as well as Illinois and New Jersey.
He also claimed that if Democrat Stacey Abrams wins the Georgia governor’s race, “that absolutely would spark refugees from Georgia.”
DeSantis did not shy away from talking about the actual refugees from Venezuela he controversially paid state money to fly from Texas to Massachusetts, despite investigations into the flights from local law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Treasury.
“They only care when we send 50 to Martha’s Vineyard,” DeSantis said to cheers. He claimed Martha’s Vineyard had declared itself a sanctuary city but “got the National Guard out to deport them off the island the next day,” despite the fact it was GOP Gov. Charlie Baker who called in the Guard to remove the migrants to a base on Cape Cod.
“Nobody was talking about this issue until that happened,” he said. “Now, everybody’s talking about it. And I think if Cory [Mills] and these guys get in with the majority, our Republican congressmen and Senators are going to do something about it.”
Mills, the GOP candidate for Congress in Seminole and Volusia counties and a 2020 election denier, claimed Democrats were trying to “remove God from our communities, our homes, our families” and got cheers from the crowd for pledging to vote against aid to Ukraine.
“We will flip CD7 from blue to red,” Mills said of the redrawn District 7, currently held by the outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. “We will keep Florida free … and we will make America great again.”
While Trump’s slogan and logo was all over hats and T-shirts, the crowd cheered rallygoers who yelled out support for DeSantis running for president in 2024.
Trump, however, is reportedly planning to announce his own bid for reelection sometime this month. And DeSantis was not listed on the guest list for Trump’s Miami rally for Rubio on Sunday.
Trump famously boosted DeSantis, then a congressman, with a single tweet in 2018 in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Since then, DeSantis’ growing profile in conservative circles has reportedly driven a wedge between the two.
DeSantis has another rally scheduled for Monday in Orange County.
In Orlando on Saturday, Crist held his second of three events across the I-4 corridor with a “Caravana” of cars from the El Chinchorreo de My Friends restaurant to the early voting site at the Alafaya branch of the Orange County Public Library.
Crist was joined by local Democrats including state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, and congressional candidate Maxwell Frost.
“Orlando is feeling the Cristmentum tonight,” Crist tweeted about a canvassing event in Orlando on Friday night. “Together we’re going to lead our state into a better, brighter Florida for all.”
Earlier in the day, Crist rode in the Homecoming Parade at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, and later held a get-out-the-vote event in Tampa.
Early voting continues on Sunday in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and some other Florida counties. Election Day is Tuesday.
Complete election coverage can be found at OrlandoSentinel.com/election.