Florida voters give DeSantis a resounding win for a second term as governor
Republican Ron DeSantis has won a second term in office as Florida governor, using tens of millions from his campaign war chest as well as his conservative brand of leadership to propel his victory. The governor also was successful in using a huge inflation rate to link to Democrats, President Joe Biden and opponent Charlie Crist.
DeSantis, 44, defeated Democrat Crist by 19 points in the race, 59%-40%.
The governor’s resounding victory made clear that Florida is dramatically more conservative-leaning compared to when DeSantis narrowly defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race four years ago.
In his initial victory in 2018, DeSantis defeated Gillum by fewer than 33,000 votes, a difference of less than one-half of one percent.
But that’s when there was 263,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida. Currently there are 305,950 more registered Republicans in the state (according to the state’s Division of Elections). Many of those are transplants who moved to Florida during the coronavirus pandemic, bringing their Republican politics with them, according to Florida Politics.
The pandemic is central to DeSantis’ ascendancy to becoming one of the country’s most prominent and controversial politicians and a flat-out rock star in some Republican circles, where he is touted as a serious presidential candidate in 2024.
Although he was not the first governor to reopen his state after the country essentially shut down in late March of 2020 — DeSantis did close Florida’s public schools in the early phase of COVID-19 — due to the pandemic (that was Georgia’s Brian Kemp), his opposition to vaccine mandates, mask mandates in classrooms and business shutdowns led to his being hailed this year by his supporters as the leader of the ‘free state of Florida.’
DeSantis leaned heavy into culture war issues that other recent Republican governors didn’t do, such as revoking Walt Disney’s 55-year-old special tax district after Disney disagreed with the Legislature’s Parental Rights in Education law, which DeSantis signed. (That law has been dubbed the ‘don’t say gay’ bill by its critics).
That national following enabled DeSantis to raise more than $200 million for his re-election campaign, the most in U.S. history. As of Monday, he still had $60 million cash-on-hand.
And while questions remain about whether DeSantis will serve a full four-year term or decide at some time next year to run for the GOP nomination for president, he will certainly still be in office when the 2023 regular session of the Legislature begins next March.
Meanwhile, as to DeSantis’ second-term agenda, the issue of abortion rights is likely to loom large.
With DeSantis’ support, the Florida Legislature enacted a 15-week abortion ban, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case. Conservatives both inside state government and outside have said they want the Legislature to go beyond 15 weeks, DeSantis has been noticeably silent on the issue throughout the campaign.
On another hot-button issue, the governor has made it clear on the issue of allowing Floridians who own guns to have to get a permit. DeSantis wants to eliminate that requirement – its supporters dub the issue “constitutional carry,” while opponents label it “permitless carry.”
“The Legislature will get it done – I can’t tell you if it will be next week, six months, but I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill,” DeSantis said in April about the possibility of loosening gun regulations Florida.
The governor hasn’t said a lot more about specifics going forward, instead focusing on his achievements on the campaign trail, including his admonition this weekend that, “We will never ever surrender to the woke mob in the state of Florida. Our state is where woke goes to die,” according to WFLA News.
For the 66-year-old Crist, the defeat Tuesday could be the end of a political career that has lasted three decades.
The St. Petersburg native was first elected to public office in 1992 as a GOP state senator representing parts of Tampa and St. Petersburg, when he defeated iconic Democratic state Sen. Helen Gordon Davis. He served six years there before losing badly to Bob Graham in a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1998. Later came statewide wins as education commissioner, attorney general and in 2006, governor – all as a Republican.
But after realizing he would lose the GOP nomination to run for U.S. Senate in 2010 to Marco Rubio, Crist left the GOP and ran and lost that race as an independent. A couple of years later he officially became a Democrat, and barely lost a second run for governor to Rick Scott in 2014.
In 2016, after a congressional district in Pinellas County had been redrawn to be more Democratic-friendly, Crist ran and defeated David Jolly and served until the past few months before stepping down to concentrate full-time for a third run for governor.
Crist offered myriad proposals during his campaign and said he would focus intensely on abortion rights. He says that on “Day One” of his administration, he’d sign an executive order defending the right to access a safe abortion as guaranteed by the Florida Constitution.