TAMPA — In front of a giant sign reading, “Freedom lives here,” Republican candidates up and down the ballot touted Florida’s success under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership and promised they were the best way to maintain it.
The Republican Party of Florida’s Keep Florida Free tour stopped in Tampa on Wednesday evening as DeSantis and other politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio traveled across the state to garner GOP support.
The tour kicked off on primary election night Tuesday in Miami-Dade, with DeSantis, Rubio and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez slamming the Democratic Party and vowing to generate huge Republican turnout across the ballot for the general election.
On Wednesday, members of the crowd at TPepin’s Hospitality Centre in Tampa donned DeSantis hats and stickers. Campaign placards and “Don’t tread on Florida” signs were held high during bursts of applause, which were frequent and booming.
“We don’t just want to win,” Rubio said. “We want to win big.”
Two Hillsborough School Board candidates who were endorsed by DeSantis and who each won their elections Tuesday, Stacy Hahn and Patricia Rendon, opened the event.
“The road to success is sweet, my friends,” Hahn said to loud applause.
Candidates praised Florida’s policies and slammed Democrats, including the Democratic candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.
DeSantis started his speech by addressing a comment Crist made without naming him. In an interview on Wednesday morning, Crist had said he didn’t want the votes of DeSantis supporters because Crist didn’t want people who had “hate in their heart.”
“It’s not hate in their heart, they care,” DeSantis said of his supporters.
The rest of DeSantis’ speech touched on familiar highlights — support for law enforcement, Florida’s few restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, parental choice and the removal of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.
“We have an opportunity to solidify Florida as the nation’s citadel of freedom,” DeSantis said. “Not just for me being governor but 10, 15, 20 years in the future.”
Along with DeSantis, Rubio and Nuñez, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Sen. Wilton Simpson, who is running for agriculture commissioner, spoke at the event.
DeSantis on Tuesday said his uncontested primary allowed him to instead help other Republicans across the state. Of the 30 candidates DeSantis endorsed for school boards across the state, the majority won their race or moved forward to the general.
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Jay Collins, the Republican running to try to unseat Democratic state Sen. Janet Cruz, addressed the crowd, as did Laurel Lee, the Republican nominee for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, and Anna Paulina Luna, who won the Republican primary for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Luna said Tuesday’s results showed the nation the “power of what MAGA is, the power of what Florida is.”
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