In campaign home stretch, GOP politics collide in Florida

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in support of Republican Senator Marco Rubio's campaign at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Miami.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in support of Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s campaign at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Miami.


Florida became the epicenter of national Republican politics on Sunday in the final round of campaign rallies before Election Day, and even with the conclusion of the midterm elections still 48 hours away, some Republicans felt as if the 2024 GOP presidential primary had begun.

In West Miami-Dade County, former President Donald Trump hosted a raucous event with the who’s who of Florida GOP politics and thousands of supporters to rally support for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, while Gov. Ron DeSantis crisscrossed the state’s headlining events that were noticeably far from the former president.

The distance between the two GOP heavyweights and Trump’s “Ron DeSanctimonious” DeSantis nickname at a rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend has fueled speculation that the two could be on a collision course in 2024.

READ MORE: ‘Souls to the Polls’ is a lively march of dedicated voters passionate about democracy

The two Republicans drew large crowds on their Sunday events, each of which featured spoils that have become emblematic of the Trump era in politics. At the DeSantis rally, for example, several people wore “DeSantis Airlines” shirts in reference to his taxpayer-funded migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

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Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, left, greets his arrival with his fiancee Chelsea Grimes, right, as he campaigns at an early polling location, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Miami. Lynne Sladky PA

Trump didn’t mock DeSantis at home on Sunday. Instead, at the Miami rally, he urged the crowd to vote for Republicans, including DeSantis.

“You’re going to re-elect the wonderful, great friend of mine, Marco Rubio to the United States Senate and you’re going to re-elect Ron DeSantis as Governor,” he said.

The clash between the two Republicans escalated as Florida Democrats tried to mount their final offensive before Election Day.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist hosted several events in South Florida with his running mate Karla Hernandez-Mats to energize voters. He visited an early voting site in Miami as “Souls to the Polls” events kicked off in multiple locations. These events in each election cycle feature black churches across the state sending masses of Democratic-leaning worshipers to vote.

One such event brought together a crowd marching from the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center at 61st Street to the Joseph Caleb Center at 54th Street, where an early voting site is located. The event also had a Junkanoo band in vibrant, bedazzled attire, an instrumental performance of “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and colorful slushies. Even the sudden downpour of rain couldn’t drown out the celebration.

The numbers are in favor of the Republicans

Still, Democrat turnout has been sluggish in early voting, a worrying sign as the party tends to build electoral advantage early ahead of a surge of Republican voters who typically turn out in larger numbers on Election Day.

As of Sunday morning, Republicans had a 331,185-vote advantage statewide in mail and early voting, increasing the urgency among Democrats fearful they could continue to lose power in the nation’s third-most populous state.

In Miami-Dade, the most populous county in the state, a similar scenario is unfolding. As of 5:40 p.m. Sunday, the last day of early voting, Republicans had a lead of nearly 6,000 votes over Democrats in early voting and mail-in votes. But Democrats were able to chip away at the 7,000-vote advantage Republicans started with at 8:15 a.m. Sunday.

Valda McKinney, president of the Miami-Dade Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, dances with the band Junkanoo during a Souls to the Polls event outside the Joseph Caleb Center Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Liberty City. Alie Skowronski [email protected]

Miami Republicans were optimistic about voting trends. At the Trump rally, State Rep. Daniel Perez told the crowd, “Miami-Dade The county will turn red.

DeSantis held rallies in Hillsborough, Lee and Sarasota counties on Sunday. His message focused on his handling of the recovery from Hurricane Ian and the pandemic, railing against the provision of COVID-19 vaccines to young children, criticizing President Joe Biden’s policies and his fight against “the ideology awake”.

“Nov. 8 is really the first time that every American can go to the polls and just tell Joe Biden what you think about his politics. You can send him a strong message about that,” DeSantis said during a campaign event at the Sun City Center “And I think he needs to hear that.”

DeSantis urged supporters to vote Republicans up and down the ballot.

“We have the opportunity to add to the United States House of Representatives from Florida. We currently have 16 Republicans, we could have after Election Day at least 20 Republicans going to Washington,” he said. “It’s possible and probably maybe.”

He added that Republicans in the Legislature could gain supermajority status in both houses after the election and make gains in local school board races.

“Are you ready to storm the polls on Tuesday?” He asked. “Are you ready to keep Florida free?” »

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Senator Marco Rubio speaks as former President Donald Trump listens to a campaign rally at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 in Miami. Rebecca Blackwell PA

Different medium-term approaches

Even before Sunday arrived, Trump and DeSantis had taken different approaches to the 2022 midterm election cycle — and what support to offer other Republican candidates.

Trump has been bursting across the country in recent weeks, backing GOP contenders in states including Iowa and Pennsylvania. But his support has been mixed with harsh criticism for Republicans he deems disloyal.

In the Colorado Senate race, for example, Trump criticized GOP nominee Joe O’Dea as a “Republican in name only” and urged his supporters not to vote for him. O’Dea had said he would campaign against Trump if the former president ran again in 2024.

And just days before coining his nickname for DeSantis, Trump slammed U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, calling on the Kentucky lawmaker to be impeached if he backs a Congressional plan to scrap the country’s debt limit.

“It’s crazy what’s going on with this debt ceiling. Mitch McConnell continues to allow this to happen. I mean, they should impeach Mitch McConnell if he allows it,” Trump said on a conservative radio show last week. “Frankly, something has to be – they have something on him. The way he endorses this thing is amazing.

Trump’s timing questioned

Trump’s criticism so close to Election Day has drawn backlash from conservatives.

Stafford Jones, a Gainesville-based Republican political consultant who rarely posts on Twitter, wrote, “Donald Trump belittles and insults our Governor of Florida two days before the 2022 midterm elections, in which our Governor is on the ballot. of voting. . . unforgivable.”

Trump’s direct affront to DeSantis stands in stark contrast to the governor’s less adversarial actions

In the days following Trump’s criticism of O’Dea, DeSantis lent his voice to a robocall supporting the Colorado Republican, putting him in direct conflict with the former president.

And after campaigning for GOP candidates in half a dozen states, a series of appearances he made time for even as he led his own re-election effort, DeSantis also helped cut a advertisement supporting Utah Senator Mike Lee, who faces a more difficult situation. -race than expected this year.

According to David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, the ad, led by the fiscally conservative political group Club for Growth, came after officials contacted DeSantis aides asking for help.

McIntosh, speaking on a call with reporters last week, said the governor’s announcement was aimed at the conservative base, where he said DeSantis was particularly popular.

“Ron has become a national party leader,” McIntosh said.

Back in Florida, Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said it was not the party’s role to choose candidates when he spoke at the Trump rally in Miami. The party sent pro-DeSantis mailings to out-of-state voters throughout the election cycle, including in Wisconsin, South Carolina and Texas.

But before Gruters left the stage on Sunday, he asked the crowd to start a chant.

“Run, Trump, run!” he said.

The crowd accepted.

Miami Herald writers Bianca Padro Ocasio, Mary Ellen Klas, Gethel Aguila and Tess Riski contributed to this report.

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