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After DeSantis ousted him, Andrew Warren’s political profile grows

Hillsborough County’s ousted state attorney raised thousands in contributions to a political committee.
Andrew Warren, right, is interviewed on CNN as communications adviser Grayson Kamm, center, and videographer Alan Rosenquist look on while in Warren's hotel room Wednesday in Tallahassee.
Published Aug. 19|Updated Aug. 20

TAMPA — Andrew Warren may have been escorted out of his office, but lately he can be found in living rooms across America.

The embattled Hillsborough state attorney who was publicly ousted earlier this month by Gov. Ron DeSantis has been making frequent appearances on cable news shows. He’s calling for donations to support him in his fight to keep his job. His Twitter following has exploded from a few thousand to about 45,000. Even his dog, Dudley, was featured in a Washington Post photograph as the country has learned Warren’s name.

In sacking Warren, DeSantis elevated the Democrat’s political profile exponentially. Warren has gone from the holder of an important but down-ballot public office with little name recognition to a symbol of what liberals — and some nonpartisan experts — view as the dangerous power plays of an ambitious governor. The question now, political insiders say, is whether Warren’s newfound platform will have staying power or recede with the next news cycle.

“People that had never even heard of Andrew Warren before definitely have heard of him now,” said Ashley Walker, a veteran South Florida Democratic political strategist whose firm is not working with Warren. “What he does with that and how he leverages that is up to him.”

Andrew Warren checks messages on his phone as he prepares to depart from a hotel after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.
Andrew Warren checks messages on his phone as he prepares to depart from a hotel after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

In addition to his team of lawyers strategizing how to get his job back, Warren has also assembled a cadre of public relations professionals, forming a campaign-like operation at Warren’s South Tampa home, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

On Wednesday, before facing a room full of cameras and reporters to announce a federal lawsuit against DeSantis, Warren practiced his speech in his Tallahassee hotel room one last time. Lawyers and communications experts huddled to go over talking points.

Around an hour earlier, Warren had appeared on CNN from an iPhone balanced on a hotel coffee machine atop an overturned trash can, saying his suspension amounted to DeSantis “throw(ing) out people’s votes.” A sign bearing the name of his legal fund was taped to the TV behind him.

Related: DeSantis sued by ousted Tampa state attorney who wants job back

Some observers say Warren’s messaging path is fraught. Try too hard to seize on the moment and he could come across as a partisan warrior — exactly the criticism levied against him by DeSantis. The governor accused him of placing politics over the law when he signed pledges vowing he wouldn’t pursue cases related to limits on abortion or transgender medical care.

Warren has insisted his singular focus is being reinstated as Hillsborough’s top prosecutor, a process that will begin in the courts and could end in the Florida Senate.

Through a spokesperson, Warren declined to be interviewed for this story. But during a Tampa news conference Wednesday, a Tampa Bay Times reporter asked Warren about how his ouster has increased his visibility.

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“This is such an important issue — I mean, you can’t overstate the importance of this. This is not about me,” he said. “This is about the attempted overthrow of democracy in Florida, and that’s the fight we’re fighting.”

It’s likely Warren’s removal would have been politicized even if he had stayed quiet, said Joshua Scacco, a University of South Florida professor specializing in political communication.

It’s a made-for-TV story of a progressive prosecutor battling with America’s most prominent Republican governor, Scacco said.

Andrew Warren is silhouetted as he practices his speech prior to news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.
Andrew Warren is silhouetted as he practices his speech prior to news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

But that storyline, he warned, could quickly overshadow the very real questions Warren’s suspension has raised about democracy and the separation of powers.

“The action and reaction are compatible with the media environment that we’re in, where outrage is designed to spark attention, particularly among the bases in the political parties,” Scacco said. “These issues get put into a polarization blender, and some things need to be above politics.”

When Warren, originally from Gainesville, ran in 2016 against a longtime Republican incumbent, the former federal prosecutor was viewed as an outsider among Tampa’s typically homegrown political class. After his razor-thin election-night upset, rumors circulated that Warren would use the prosecutor job as a stepping stone for higher office.

But he ran and won a second term in 2020, this time by a wider margin.

Still, political insiders speculate that he may seek a statewide office or one in Washington, D.C., and suggest that his fight for reinstatement could boost his chances. Last year, he was openly mulling a 2022 run for Florida attorney general but decided against it.

Walker said the key to lengthening his time in the spotlight is broadening his appeal, possibly positioning himself as a foil to DeSantis.

“He could become more active on the political scene and go out there and be a surrogate for whomever is the Democratic nominee,” she said. “He could go out and take a criminal justice platform and say, ‘There should be more separation between politics and the criminal justice system.’”

Related: Florida lawmakers could defy DeSantis in Andrew Warren case. They likely won’t.

Ana Cruz, a prominent Tampa-based lobbyist and a Democrat, said she’d advise Warren to center on the issue of democracy and how his election was overturned by DeSantis’ suspension — which aligns with the core of his message so far.

“I think that he has a real opportunity to talk about how fragile our electoral system could be,” she said.

Andrew Warren, right, checks his cellphone as communications adviser Grayson Kamm tapes a poster to the TV in Warren's hotel room just prior to a CNN interview Wednesday in Tallahassee.
Andrew Warren, right, checks his cellphone as communications adviser Grayson Kamm tapes a poster to the TV in Warren's hotel room just prior to a CNN interview Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The state political committee Warren has promoted, Safer Stronger Florida, received more donations on Aug. 5 — the day after DeSantis announced Warren’s removal — than any other day up until that point since its creation in 2017, according to campaign finance filings. That date also marked the first time Warren tweeted the link to his donation page.

Then in the following week, it shattered its own record, with the committee’s best day generating nearly 300 contributions on Aug. 8.

Most of the contributions were $100 or less and many came from donors within Florida, though plenty flowed from out-of-state — like $15 from a retiree in Philadelphia, $100 from a scientist in New Orleans or $50 from an executive coach in San Francisco.

Warren since has switched to plugging a legal fund instead of the political committee.

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers and political operatives is launching a 501(c)4 nonprofit to fundraise and message around “the assault on democracy that this overreach by the governor presents,” said Tallahassee lawyer Ron Meyer, who is working with Warren.

Andrew Warren talks a phone call after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.
Andrew Warren talks a phone call after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

DeSantis, too, has used Warren’s ouster to generate money for his reelection, which already has broken state records for raking in over $150 million.

“After I announced the removal of a Soros-backed prosecutor refusing to do his job, I have a target on my back,” read a text message blast that had an accompanying video from the DeSantis campaign. “I’m counting on our grassroots supporters to step up by midnight tonight. Trust me, this is the single most important thing you can do to protect Florida’s freedom.”

Sean Shaw, a former Democratic state House member from Tampa who’s actively involved in politics, said “30 seconds” after he learned of Warren’s suspension, he could have predicted Warren was about to become “a national star.”

Warren is “going to have a lot of options going forward,” Shaw said, adding that the White House should be targeting him for a Department of Justice appointment.

Adam Goodman, a longtime Republican media strategist, said while Warren’s name is more recognized now, it may not return him to elected office.

“You can ask the question, ‘Does Andrew Warren end up in a similar role to Liz Cheney?’” Goodman said, referencing the Republican U.S. House member who lost her Wyoming primary after crossing Trump. “Liz Cheney has never been better-known than she is today ... (but) where does that end up?”

Andrew Warren, left, looks on as attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.
Andrew Warren, left, looks on as attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Times photo director Chris Urso and staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report.

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