JACKSONVILLE — In a clear signal that the final trajectory of his campaign will be shaped by his alliance with President Donald Trump, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis was joined Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence at a Jacksonville rally.
Pence, accompanied by his wife, Karen, and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, assured the former congressman and a crowd of about 500 supporters at the Prime Osborn Convention Center that DeSantis will have Trump's full support.
"I'm here to tell you. It won't be any great surprise to you. Ron DeSantis has been one of the strongest advocates for the Trump agenda in the Congress of the United States. And President Donald Trump and I support him 100 percent," Pence said.
That support will be amplified by a Trump rally that will be held in Lee County on Wednesday, less than a week before the Nov. 6 election.
DeSantis, who lives outside Jacksonville in Ponte Vedra Beach and served three terms in Congress before stepping down last month, used Trump's support to propel himself to a victory over the better-funded Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for governor.
And now in a general-election campaign against Democrat Andrew Gillum, DeSantis is emphasizing his support from the president in an apparent effort to energize Republican voters and draw them to the polls.
He is also doubling down on his attacks on Gillum, raising questions about the Tallahassee mayor accepting a pricey ticket to attend the Broadway musical "Hamilton" from an undercover FBI agent who Gillum believed to be a developer looking to invest in Tallahassee. The issue was at the center of the candidates' final acrimonious debate Wednesday night at Broward College.
"He didn't pay for it. He lied to the people of Florida," DeSantis told the Jacksonville crowd. "He's got all these excuses. This issue is about integrity. It's not about black or white. It's about right or wrong."
Gillum, who is trying to become the first African-American elected as Florida's governor, has suggested race is playing an issue in DeSantis' attacks. He said he got the ticket from his brother.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Gillum said DeSantis was suggesting "somehow I haven't deserved what I've gotten — I'm unethical, participate in illegal and illicit activities, I mean you name it."
"The goal is obviously to use my candidacy as a way to reinforce, frankly, stereotypes about black men," he said.
But both DeSantis and Pence slammed Gillum on a host of other issues, including his support for dismantling the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and his plan to raise Florida's corporate income taxes by $1 billion to pay for teacher salaries.
"We will never abolish ICE," Pence said, as long as Trump is president, Gov. Rick Scott is elected to the U.S. Senate and DeSantis is governor. "We'll build a wall and we will fix this broken immigration system once and for all."
Pence and DeSantis also criticized Gillum for his support of the Dream Defenders' group, which DeSantis characterized as a "radical" organization that aims to undermine law enforcement.
Pence called Gillum "just one more voice of the resistance."
"His politics, his policies look more like Bernie Sanders' Vermont than the Sunshine State," Pence said.
Pence joined DeSantis in Jacksonville after touring damage from Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle with Scott, who is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Pence said the Trump administration is fully committed to helping the state in its rebuilding efforts, including repairing Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City.
Pence also spoke briefly about pipe bombs that were sent this week to several prominent critics of Trump, including 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
"We condemn these attempted acts of violence in the strongest possible terms," Pence said, adding the investigation is the FBI's "highest priority" and that "those responsible will be brought to justice."
DeSantis was also joined at the rally by his wife Casey, a Jacksonville television personality, and his running mate, state Rep. Jeanette Nunez of Miami. U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville also spoke in support of DeSantis' campaign.