TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Republican-led legislature hands Gov. Ron DeSantis a streak of Culture War victories that increasingly worry Democrats that he could be unstoppable as a 2022 reelection and reelection approaches a possible presidential race.
The legislature, which ends its two-month session this week, passed “riot” legislation that DeSantis called for following nationwide racial justice protests last summer. He approved a bill targeting Big Tech companies to “censor” GOP voices. State lawmakers also passed a bill banning so-called vaccine passports, an issue DeSantis used to highlight its unattended pandemic response that endeared it to Republicans across the country.
These bills were a top priority for DeSantis heading into the legislative session and will give him talking points about the election campaign as he prepares for a 2024 presidential bid. These are also favorite topics of DeSantis. Trump’s base of support from the Republican Party across the United States. DeSantis’ adoption of these red meat issues helped fuel the first-term governor’s national rise and worried some Florida Democrats about their chances of defeating him. the next race for governor.
“What we are seeing is Ron’s regime in action – freedom, fairness and the balance of power lost this session,” said Florida Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, a challenger likely from 2022, in an interview.
A Florida Democratic consultant who is not currently lined up with any potential gubernatorial candidates said the political fuel provided by the Legislature to DeSantis was bad news for Democrats.
“I don’t know if I see anyone on our side who can beat him,” the consultant said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they did not want to be seen as critical of Democrats. “Even the cultural war-type questions he chose are well chosen. They are not very unpopular. “
DeSantis has remained popular in the state, earning a 53% approval rating according to a Mason-Dixon poll conducted in March, in part because he failed to declare a blanket lockdown during the pandemic and prevented local governments to institute mask mandates. His legislative victories on issues such as riot control, coupled with his handling of the pandemic, have propelled DeSantis onto the national stage and will only serve to help him develop a well of renowned supporters as he considering his future.
“Governor DeSantis is emerging as one of the leading Republicans in developing and implementing real solutions,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an interview. “His first two years were very, very impressive and earned him national attention as a Republican leader.”
Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said DeSantis’ celebrity status is on the rise in national GOP circles. In recent months, DeSantis has become a staple of Fox News and Fox Business, appearing or being mentioned more than 500 times on networks between March 1 and April 21, according to a service that tracks media appearances.
“He comes to all Republican Governors Association events, and he’s normally surrounded by members who want to meet him and take pictures with him,” Anuzis said.
Democrats planning to challenge DeSantis have used his right-wing political platform to continue cultivating his boogeyman status among liberal voters, who have not been able to elect a Florida governor for more than two decades, but are motivated to torpedo DeSantis’ national rise.
Democrats not only used the riot bill to launch early attacks on DeSantis, but also a sweeping election bill in which DeSantis was not the main voice. They also criticized legislation already signed by DeSantis that would require the collection of online sales taxes, a measure that would bring in about $ 1 billion to the state, a massive tax hike.
Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now a Democratic member of Congress, and Democratic Representative Val Demings are also widely seen as gubernatorial contenders. Neither returned a request for comment on how they think DeSantis performed this session.
The biggest fight in the 2021 session has been over the riot bill, which DeSantis’ political enemies have called an unconstitutional crackdown on protests. Legislation, which DeSantis called “the country’s strongest riot and law enforcement law,” increases penalties for a host of already illegal acts committed during a “riot” and makes it harder for governments local. cut police funding, a direct shot at the “defund the police” slogan. It has been described as racist and unconstitutional by dozens of speakers who opposed the bill in each of its legislative committee judgments.
Bill, however, sounded well in Florida, and DeSantis will undoubtedly use it as a messenger bludgeon during the 2022 campaign. A poll conducted in January by Republican pollster Ryan Tyson showed 64% support a “riot” bill, including 41% of voters Democrats in the primaries.
Tallahassee lawmakers also approved a bill that gives DeSantis broad power to overturn local government decrees and bans “vaccine passports.” DeSantis, by decree, has already temporarily banned vaccine passports. But he lobbied the Florida legislature to ban their use in state law.
“It is totally unacceptable for the government or the private sector to force you to show proof of vaccine just to be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis told reporters earlier this month.
Democrats, however, have called him a “DeathSantis” for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and point out that Florida has recorded more than 2.2 million cases and nearly 35,000 deaths.
“The point is that 30,000 of our fellow Floridians have died and that is nothing to brag about,” Crist told POLITICO last month.
National Republicans, however, continue to be impressed as his profile grows through efforts like his riot bill.
“I think it’s a good idea that will play well with the base,” said Anuzis. “I think nationwide he’s very intriguing given what happened with his Covid response, the results in the state in 2020 and the bill dealing with riots. He’s someone to watch, and I think clearly on everyone’s shortlist for potential presidential candidates.