GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis, lauded by conservatives for his efforts to reopen Florida businesses and schools early in the deadly pandemic and who opposed mandatory vaccinations and masks, easily won re-election Tuesday.
The victory sets national expectations for a possible showdown against former President Donald Trump in a bid for the White House in 2024. DeSantis called his performance “a historic, landslide victory.”
DeSantis, 44, was winning by nearly 19 percentage points over Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, himself a former Republican Florida governor. That margin was the largest since 1982 when popular incumbent Democratic Gov. Bob Graham was re-elected by 29 points.
DeSantis won a convincing victory and was comfortably ahead in 62 of Florida’s 67 counties – including winning reliably blue Miami-Dade, the state’s most-populous, by 11 points. He was the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to do so in 20 years.
The Associated Press projected DeSantis as the winner at 8:03 p.m., just minutes after polls closed in the western Panhandle.
“We had the conviction to guide us, and we had the courage to lead. We made promises to the people of Florida, and we have delivered on those promises,” DeSantis said. “Today, after four years, the people have delivered their verdict.”
During his victory speech, he said that not only has the GOP won the election but has rewritten the political map. He added that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”
The governor’s race was the most significant in the state, and Republican successes elsewhere showed Florida continuing to deepen red politically and contributing to GOP successes nationally.
DeSantis won by 3 points in reliably blue Palm Beach County, where he lost by 17 points four years ago. He won by 12 points in Duval, which includes Jacksonville, where he lost by nearly 5 points in the last election. And he won by 10 points in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, where he had lost by 9 points.
Across Florida, uninspired Democrats largely failed to show up to vote even in the state’s roughly dozen blue-leaning counties: In Miami-Dade, turnout among registered Republicans was nearly 15 points higher than among Democrats. In Broward, home to more registered Democrats than anywhere else, Republican turnout led by almost 11 points. In Palm Beach, GOP turnout was 10 points higher.
A wave of support for Democrats from women and progressives angry over the conservative Supreme Court’s decision in the summer curtailing abortion rights never materialized, amid heightened concerns by voters over inflation and a weak economy traceable to the pandemic.
DeSantis led Crist in recent political polls by roughly 12 points.
Crist congratulated DeSantis, wishing the best to the citizens of Florida.
“It has been an absolute blessing to serve as governor before, to serve as the congressman for my hometown,” he said. “I am a happy man, and I am at peace.”
Tuesday’s results were a far cry from 2018, when DeSantis beat then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by less than one-half a percentage point out of more than 8.1 million votes. A former Navy lawyer and three-term Republican congressman at the time, DeSantis owed his victory – which came 11 days later after an automatic recount – to Trump’s endorsement of him as a candidate.
Trump, who lives in Florida and is expected to announce next week that he will run for the presidency in 2024, has already identified DeSantis as a possible political rival for the GOP nomination. He said Tuesday he had voted for DeSantis but derided the governor earlier this week as “Ron DeSanctimonious,” a likely reference to a recent political advertisement by DeSantis in which he was described as a gift from God.
DeSantis, whose popularity and political profile has grown nationally, sought to link Crist to decisions by Democrats in Washington that he blamed for inflation under the Biden administration. Crist, who was Florida’s Republican governor between 2007 and 2011, called DeSantis divisive. DeSantis called Crist a “worn-out, old donkey.”
Crist’s prospects were threatened by glowing reviews – including by President Joe Biden – toward the governor’s actions after Hurricane Ian in southwest Florida, a lack of financial support from national Democrats who saw the race’s outcome as inevitable and surging Republican popularity among Hispanics in South Florida, especially in Miami-Dade.
John Oliver, 63, in Marion County in north-central Florida, said he was reluctant to vote for DeSantis but disagreed with Crist over abortion rights.
“I have been a registered Democrat my entire life, but when my daughter decided to abort my grandchild, something inside me changed,” Oliver said. “I want a governor, like DeSantis, to stop this madness and protect the unborn. I want to give this governor another chance.”
Mason Stewart, 25, said DeSantis was not a good fit for governor, saying he does not foster what Stewart called “inclusivity for Floridians.”
“Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have never felt accepted by our current governor,” he said. He added: “It isn’t fair for people to feel this way in their own home. This is someone in charge of leading our state, so matters of the people shouldn’t be taken so lightly.”
Crist sought to remind voters about the 82,000 deaths in Florida from COVID-19 under DeSantis, skyrocketing insurance premiums for Florida homeowners, the governor’s refusal to promise he would fully serve another four-year term without running for the GOP presidential nomination, Florida’s new restrictions on abortion rights, the culture wars waged by DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Legislature since he took office in 2019, and more.
The DeSantis campaign was flush with cash: His campaign itself raised more than $161 million, compared to Crist’s campaign raising about $14 million. Crist spent nearly every dollar during the campaign, and DeSantis reported about $54 million left over.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can donate to support our students here.