SUN CITY CENTER — The 2022 election isn’t over yet, as Floridians can all too easily tell from their stuffed mailboxes and TVs airing non-stop ads. But already 2024 loomed large on Sunday, and what had been a quiet rivalry between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump is heating up.
Just two days before Election Day, the two men held dueling rallies across the state — DeSantis in Sun City Center in Hillsborough County at 3 p.m. and Trump, alongside Sen. Marco Rubio, in Miami, just after.
DeSantis did not mention Trump at all in his roughly 50-minute speech, which he gave with a hoarse voice after days of campaigning.
That’s even though the former president a day earlier had mockingly called the Florida governor “Ron DeSanctimonious” during a rally in Pennsylvania and had talked up polling results of a survey that showed him ahead of DeSantis in a hypothetical 2024 matchup.
Instead, DeSantis focused his ire on President Joe Biden, liberal states like New York and California, plus the “woke” ideology that he said threatens to destroy the country.
“In our country, the elites who have so much power, they want to impose their vision and their policies on the rest of us but they do not want to have to live under the consequences of those policies themselves,” DeSantis said to a crowd of a few hundred people gathered in the retirement community’s event hall.
Some of his biggest applause lines of the afternoon involved comments about his flights shipping mostly Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard; several people in the crowd wore “DeSantis Airlines” T-shirts in reference to the stunt.
DeSantis concluded his remarks a few minutes early and quickly headed to southwest Florida for two more campaign stops, including one with country music star Parker McCollum.
Trump took the stage in Miami shortly after, in front of a crowd ostensibly there to support U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s reelection effort. Trump told the crowd to vote to reelect both Rubio and DeSantis. This time, he did not trot out mocking nicknames for either candidate.
DeSantis’ team has declined to ask Trump for help throughout the campaign, including not requesting his endorsement. The separate rallies on Sunday were a continuation of that strategy. DeSantis is widely expected to win reelection on Tuesday over Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, who was on his own tour around the state over the weekend.
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Trump’s support was key for DeSantis during his original run for governor in 2018, helping him beat a better-funded, well-established Florida Republican in his primary on the strength of the MAGA brand.
Trump has at times offered public reminders of this fact; the email blast announcing Trump’s Miami rally reminded recipients that it was Trump who “delivered a historic red wave for Florida in the 2018 midterms with his slate of endorsed candidates up and down the ballot.”
Late last month, Trump reposted a video on his social media platform, Truth Social, featuring commentator Megyn Kelly saying that DeSantis couldn’t beat Trump head-to-head.
“I AGREE!” Trump wrote in the post.
Days before that, DeSantis also ran afoul of Trump via one of his many endorsements of other Republicans across the country. DeSantis recorded a robocall for Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, whom Trump had already bashed after O’Dea said he didn’t want Trump to run for president again.
Reposting an article about DeSantis’ support for O’Dea, Trump wrote: “A BIG MISTAKE!”
While DeSantis did not directly mention Trump or 2024, it was on the minds of some of his supporters who attended the Sun City Center rally, several of whom had already made up their minds about who they’d choose in a Republican primary.
Darbie Pfeiffer, 58, of Wimauma, said she’d choose DeSantis over Trump “100%.”
“I love Trump, too, but with President Trump there are so many people who are against him,” she said. “There would be so much time and effort, like when Trump was president before, (spent on) people trying to come after him.”
Her husband agreed. “That’s where DeSantis has an edge over Trump, because the focus will be on the country and not going after an oligarch just because he’s an oligarch,” said Carl Pfeiffer, 62.
Some rally attendees debated the topic while speaking with a reporter.
“I love President Trump, but Ron DeSantis speaks well and ... as much as I hate to say it, the drama isn’t there,” said Joanne Osgood, 60, who lives in Riverview.
“We’ve got to give a chance to Trump to finish what he started,” replied Ivan Bermudez, 72, of Brandon.
There were others who declined to discuss the disparaging nickname Trump had given DeSantis, or choose between the two men.
“I think that’s purely speculation,” said Laurie Skipper, 66, of Apollo Beach when asked about 2024. “There’s a lot of time between two years.”
Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.
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