Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis gave about 3,000 of his fans just what they wanted to hear during a Friday evening campaign stop in Melbourne — a rousing speech that went after Democrats and at the same time fired up the crowd.
DeSantis’ Melbourne appearance outside the American Muscle Car Museum was one of 13 campaign stops he has planned from Friday through Monday.
During his 40-minute speech, DeSantis, who is seeking a second four-year term, barely alluded to his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who previously was Florida’s governor as a Republican.
Rather, DeSantis — a potential candidate for president in 2024 — spent much more time going after President Joe Biden. That included the Biden administration’s inflation challenges, immigration policy, energy policy and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“They don’t know what the hell they’re doing up there” in Washington, DeSantis said, in discussing the nation’s inflation.
In his only reference to Crist, DeSantis urged the crowd to “please help me send, once and for all, a tired, worn-out, old donkey out to pasture” — a line similar to the one he used during his Oct. 24 debate with Crist.
In a statement issued Friday, Crist criticized DeSantis, saying: “As America’s jobs economy roars, Floridians are having a harder time paying their bills because of Ron DeSantis. Ron likes to point fingers for the affordability crisis he created, but here are the facts. He was the one who permanently cut the housing affordability trust fund. He’s the one who failed to regulate FPL and Florida’s insurance market.”
“Real leaders hold themselves accountable, and offer a plan to fix what they broke,” Crist said. “Ron’s only plan is to ban abortion completely, and run for president.”
Nevertheless, supporters of DeSantis at the Melbourne event were loyal to the incumbent governor.
The campaign message of DeSantis being responsible for “the free state of Florida” resonated with many of those in attendance.
“It is kind of strange to me he gets called a fascist by his opponents because fascism is like the government telling you what to do,” said Al Rigley, a Cocoa Beach resident who recently retired from working in the defense industry. “He doesn’t do that. He is actually fighting to make sure that you get to decide what you want to do, what you think is right for you. Whether that is sending your kids to school in person or taking a vaccine that has been unproven.”
Luciana Wright, a 42-year-old Melbourne resident who owns a construction company, said: “I am so with DeSantis. He does a great job.”
In addition to reelecting him as governor “to keep Florida free,” DeSantis urged the crowd to do their part to help give the Republicans a majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as to increase the GOP majority in the Florida Legislature and to elect more Republicans to school board seats.
“We need to have a record Republican turnout in this election,” DeSantis said. “If we do our part … we are going to be kicking off a major red wave all throughout this country.”
Florida’s unusually lopsided governor’s race entered its final weekend with the scales heavily weighted in favor of DeSantis. Whether that carries over into a dominating performance on Election Day remains to be seen.
A DeSantis blowout would defy recent Florida history. Each of the last three races for governor were decided by one percentage point or less.
Crist has focused his campaign message heavily on abortion and pocketbook issues, especially soaring property insurance premiums.
As DeSantis was continuing his “Don’t Tread on Florida Tour” this weekend, Crist was planning campaign stops in Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa as part of his “Choose Freedom Tour.”