Trump to headline rally for DeSantis in Florida next week in closely watched gov race

President Donald Trump will headline a Make America Great Again rally in the Fort Myers area on Oct. 31 to help Florida Republicans, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, in the final days before the election, his campaign announced Wednesday.

Trump had been widely expected to make another appearance in Florida before Election Day to help DeSantis, who won the primary after a presidential endorsement and faces an unexpected opponent, liberal Democrat Andrew Gillum.

The race has attracted attention on both sides — former President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have all endorsed Gillum and major donors from both parties are contributing vast amounts of money to the race.

DeSantis has tied himself to Trump throughout the race, gambling that the connection will pay off in a state the president narrowly won in 2016. DeSantis’s campaign issued a brief statement saying he was “looking forward” to the event.

On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence will speak at an event for DeSantis in Jacksonville and headline a closed Vero Beach fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott, who is running against Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson. Pence and his wife, Karen, will first travel to the Panama City area to survey damage done by Hurricane Michael.

It’s unclear whether Scott, who says he is focused on hurricane recovery, will attend Trump’s rally, which will be in the conservative southwest part of the swing state. “We will keep everyone updated on any changes to the campaign schedule,” Scott campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

Trump has been headlining boisterous Make America Great Again rallies several times a week in states that backed him in 2016, including North Dakota, Missouri and Arizona, trying to boost Republican candidates next month. He estimates that a third of rally attendees are not traditional Republican votes, according to someone familiar with his strategy.

He plans to headline at least 10 more rallies before Election Day, according to his re-election campaign. He will hold rallies this week in Mosinee, Wisconsin on Wednesday, Charlotte on Friday and Murphysboro, Illinois on Saturday. Trump has hosted 37 rallies since he came in office in January 2017.

Trump didn’t know DeSantis well — though he did endorse him when he first ran for Congress in 2012 — but was impressed with him after watching him appear frequently on FOX News supporting the president’s agenda, aides say. The president endorsed him on Twitter after the two shared a flight together on Air Force One to a rally in Pensacola.

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Adam Putnam, the state’s agriculture commissioner and establishment Republican candidate. was leading until Trump’s tweeted his support and appeared at a rally with DeSantis in Tampa.

Trump’s campaign also will launch a $6 million national TV and digital advertising campaign Monday that will run through Election Day.

“President Trump is all-in for the midterms to lead the GOP to victory on Election Day,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “His winning spirit is energizing Americans across the country to get out the vote and keep the momentum of our America First agenda going strong.”

Alex Daugherty in Washington and David Smiley of the Miami Herald contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum predicted victory in the Florida governor’s race Saturday night during the Miami-Dade Democratic Party Blue Gala at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.