Donald Trump won’t be able to stay away from Florida this fall.
Trump, relishing his role as kingmaker in the state’s Republican primary for governor, is certain he can help his hand-picked candidate, Republican Ron DeSantis, defeat his unexpected opponent, liberal Democrat Andrew Gillum, several people familiar with the president’s plans told McClatchy.
Trump is expected to help DeSantis raise money and allow his name, voice and likeness to be used in mailers, recorded calls and text messages. And, of course, there will be plenty of tweets.
The president could return to the country’s biggest swing state to appear at a campaign rally alongside DeSantis, the people say., though it’s likely to be strategically set in parts of the state where Trump would be more welcome than others, such as the Panhandle, Jacksonville, along the southwest coast or Tampa, home to MacDill Air Force Base.
“The president is going to want to play a role,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida lobbyist who is close to Trump and pledged to raise money for DeSantis.
In one of his first acts as the Republican nominee, DeSantis used Trump’s name in a fundraising email to supporters Wednesday.
“President Trump already called to tell me how proud he is that we won.” he wrote in the email. “He knows that our victory in the upcoming general election is CRITICAL to his re-election in 2020.”
Trump is even more likely to help DeSantis now that he faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a favorite of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party who has been endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist. DeSantis vs. Gillum could quickly turn into Trump vs. Sanders.
“It’s too tempting for him...because they nominated Bernie Sanders,” said a former Trump adviser who remains close to the White House. “Basically he’s running against Bernie Sanders.”
Gillum, who would be the state’s first black governor, secured his party’s nomination after a surprising victory over a more established candidate with a prominent Florida name.
Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign adviser who worked for DeSantis on a posssible 2016 Senate race, said DeSantis will need Trump to urge supporters who are not traditional voters to get behind DeSantis to counter Gillum, who is expected to mobilize the passionate left wing of the Democratic Party.
“It would be smart to have President Trump be involved at the highest level,” he said.
Democrats downplayed Gillum’s liberal views, saying he has had a record of success in Tallahassee, and put the focus back on Trump. Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. said DeSantis is vulnerable because Floridians want results. “Ron DeSantis has made it clear his priority is pleasing Trump first,” he said.
The White House and DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to questions about Trump’s role. Some warn that Trump could still have a negative effect.
“Both Donald Trump and Sanders played a major successful role in the outcome of the primaries and both may we’ll be a hindrance in the general election,” said Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union and Florida Republican Party. “Both bases are energized, he said, adding, “It will be a doozy.”
Trump has been widely credited with helping Republicans in primaries across the nation, but many didn’t expect him to be a factor in general election matchups outside of states that he won.
But Republicans say Trump can helpful in Florida — a state he narrowly won in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton — because the DeSantis embraced him early on and polls show Trump has an approval rating that’s nearly as high as his disapproval rating, higher than in most of the nation’s other swing states.
Steve Cortes, a Trump ally who served on his Hispanic Advisory Council during the 2016 campaign and is serving on his 2020 Trump re-electing committee, said Florida’s demographics have been portrayed as a negative for Trump but that the president’s approval ratings with Hispanics are rising as he explains how his record has helped the booming Florida economy, which has helped both blacks and Hispanics in the state.
Cortes cited a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll in June showing that Trump’s approval rating rose to 47 percent nationwide in part due to a 10-point climb among Hispanic voters. Still, a Florida Atlantic University poll in July showed only 43 percent of voters approved of his job performance while 45 percent disapproved.
Trump was jubilant Wednesday with his success in Florida especiallyafter last week’s loss in Wyoming, where his chosen candidate, businessman and major Republican donor Foster Friess lost the Republican primary.
Trump often boasts about his success in endorsements. In congressional races, he usually endorses who congressional leaders request if he supports anyone at all. But in gubernatorial races, he has been much more willing to act on his own.
He has endorsed 15 candidates in Republican gubernatorial primaries since he was sworn into office and in several, including Florida, Georgia and Kansas, his support is credited with changing the race.
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.
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.
On Wednesday, when asked by reporters about Florida, Trump couldn’t help gush about DeSantis.
“I know Ron DeSantis,” he told reporters. “Ron DeSantis is extraordinary. Harvard. Yale. Brilliant. He ran an incredible campaign. Really beat a lot of people he wasn’t supposed to beat. He’s an extreme talent. And he will make a fantastic governor of Florida.”