TAMPA — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who transformed his public profile during his first term into the man his allies bill as “America’s Governor,” handily won reelection Tuesday in a blowout that is certain to add fuel to his national rise.
Statewide results showed DeSantis had a roughly 19-point lead over Crist as of about 9:30 p.m. That margin was a mammoth win in Florida, a state accustomed to razor-thin margins. The Associated Press called the race just a few minutes after 8 p.m., almost immediately after the last of the state’s polls in the Central Time Zone closed.
Before cannons shot a rain of red, white and blue confetti over his watch party at the Tampa Convention Center, DeSantis thanked the state for the landslide.
“Thank you for honoring us with a win for the ages,” he said. ”I believe the survival of the American experiment requires a revival of true American principles. Florida has proved that it can be done.”
Although DeSantis’ campaign benefited from multiple advantages — including a historic sum of campaign cash and national political headwinds — his backers said he didn’t take the victory for granted, unleashing an avalanche of ads alongside the state Republican Party and holding wall-to-wall rallies.
“He had a compelling story when Floridians were starving for good news,” Adam Goodman, a veteran Republican strategist, said, referring to DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic. “This isn’t just another Florida election. This is a mandate.”
[See all the latest election results here.]
Just across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, DeSantis’ Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, also watched the results come in. Both men grew up in Pinellas County.
Crist has been a Florida political institution for decades, previously serving as a Republican governor before later switching parties. He most recently was a U.S. representative. Tuesday’s loss raised questions about what would come next for the 66-year-old politician known for his retail politics skills and moderate positions.
“Florida has been great to me my entire life, and I can’t thank all my fellow Floridians enough for so much for so long,” Crist said in his concession speech.
Although DeSantis, 44, began his first term as a newcomer to state government who promoted bipartisan issues like raising teacher pay and restoring the Everglades, he soon came to be defined by his embrace of political conflict, championing controversial issues that needled the country’s divisions over race, immigration, history and the rights of LGBTQ people.
That combative style endeared him to supporters who say he’s an unapologetic fighter who’s comfortable breaking unspoken political rules — traits that could help him win a Republican primary in a presidential bid he’s widely considered to be eyeing.
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Case in point: He publicly made an enemy of Disney, one of the state’s top employers and a powerful special interest, in a move designed to warn other businesses not to publicly oppose his priorities. Clips of him berating news reporters have also become central to his brand, repeatedly incorporated into hype videos and political ads.
The most defining moments of DeSantis’ career so far, though, came when the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation. The governor was thrust into a crisis of a new magnitude and complexity. After at first shutting down large gatherings and businesses, he largely responded by bucking the advice of mainstream public health experts — garnering both positive attention and vitriol from around the nation.
He pushed a state law through the Legislature prohibiting schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccines and issued an executive order suspending local governments’ mask mandates. As thousands of people moved to the state during the pandemic, DeSantis declared that he had made Florida into an “oasis of freedom” nationwide. More than 82,000 Floridians have died of COVID-19, the 12th highest per capita death rate in the country, according to a New York Times database.
DeSantis has also significantly expanded the power of his office, a pattern that he’s expected to continue in his second term. During the redistricting process, he rejected the map proposals from legislative leaders of his own party and replaced them with versions drawn by his office that more aggressively provided for GOP wins.
And he has appointed four out of seven justices to the Florida Supreme Court, dramatically remaking the institution that had historically been the final speed bump left to slow Republicans’ full control of policy. Those appointments will have major implications in his second term, as the court is expected to reverse its prior precedent to allow for further abortion restrictions in the state.
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