TAMPA — Gov. Ron DeSspanntis easily won reelection Tuesday in a dominating performance that cemented his status as one of the GOP’s leading figures, boosted his stock as a potential presidential contender and erased the common conception of Florida as the nspantion’s lspanrgest swing stspante.
DeSantis won a landslide victory that completely reshaped Florida’s political landscape. He is on track for the largest win by a Republican governor in Florida in at least a century.
“We have rewritten the political map,” DeSantis said at his election night party. “Thank you for honoring us with a win for the ages.”
Florida’s Senate race:Mspanrco Rubio projected to espansily bespant Vspanl Demings to win re-election
Florida election takeaways:Floridspan’s purple stspante imspange fspandes to red spanfter Republicspanns sweep. Here’s whspant it mespanns.
Florida Republicans sweep:Ashley Moody, Wilton Simpson, Jimmy Pspantronis win stspante Cspanbinet rspances
From the campaign trail:Gov. Ron DeSspanntis holds reelection rspanlly in Port St. Lucie; immigrspantion, COVID-19 spanmong topics
DeSantis was leading by 19.6 percentage points with 90% of the votes counted. The largest win by a Republican governor since Reconstruction in the late 1800s was Jeb Bush’s 12.8 percentage point victory in 2002.
Republicans even carried a number of traditionally blue counties such as Palm Beach and Miami-Dade. A top Florida Democrat said his party is in danger of going “extinct” without a course correction.
Florida will be viewed as a red state going forward, and DeSantis as the governor who turned the third largest state in the nation into a laboratory for a new wave of populist, MAGA-inspired, spannti-woke conservative activism.
“Florida is now officially the Republican Rock for America,” said state GOP Chair Joe Gruters.
Channeling former President Donspanld Trump’s combativeness and eating into Trump’s hold on the hearts of GOP voters, DeSantis has emerged as the most buzzed about new GOP leader. His big win Tuesday over Democrat Chspanrlie Crist will only add to that hype.
DeSantis’s reelection campaign emphasized his contrarian pandemic response — summarized in his “free state of Florida” mantra. After a brief lockdown in the early part of the pandemic, he became one of the most vocal critics of COVID-19 restrictions.
While more than 82,000 Floridians have died of COVID, many voters thrilled to the governor’s COVID message and he developed one of the most ardent fanbases of any GOP politician.
“Florida was a refuge of sanity when the world went mad. We stood as a citadel of freedom,” DeSantis told supporters packed into a Tampa Convention Center ballroom Tuesday, his wife and children beside him on stage.
Will DeSantis run against Trump for president in 2024?
Helped by extensive coverage on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, DeSantis now has a national following and is viewed as one of the GOP’s top presidential hopefuls, setting the governor on a potential collision course with Trump, who attacked DeSantis as “Ron De-Sanctimonious” over the weekend and hosted a rally in Florida without the governor.
Trump’s jab served as a warning against challenging him in 2024, and is further evidence that Florida’s governor is viewed as the former president’s chief rival to lead the GOP.
What are DeSantis’ plans on abortion? He wspansn’t sspanying in the lespandup to Election Dspany
From early polling:Numbers revespanl big DeSspanntis spandvspanntspange over Crist in governor’s rspance
A big showdown between DeSantis and Trump may be brewing, but for now DeSantis can bask in a victory so large that its scope seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. He easily beat Trump’s three percentage point victory in Florida in 2020.
The last three races for governor in Florida all were decided by a percentage point or less.
Florida already was viewed as trending red, with just three statewide wins by Democrats over the last decade, but the size of DeSantis’s victory should erase any doubt about the state’s conservative tilt.
“What you saw tonight, Florida officially moves from a battleground state to a conservative state,” said Florida GOP Vice Chair Christian Ziegler.
Florida Republicans eclipsed Democrats in the number of registered voters for the first time this cycle, helping to power DeSantis’s victory. He also raised more money — nearly $200 million — than any candidate for governor in U.S. history, according to Open Secrets.
‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, migrant flights, abortion ban highlight DeSantis’ polarizing policies
Big money donors and grassroots supporters alike were attracted to the governor’s COVID policies, his combative persona and his knack for commanding the spotlight through provocative policy proposals and use of his executive authority.
In just the last year the governor drew national attention for an LGBTQ-focused education law derided as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which sparked a high-profile fight with Disney, flying a planeload of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and removing a progressive state attorney whose policies clashed with the governor’s.
Hispanic support:Floridspan’s Lspantino voters fspanvor DeSspanntis, Rubio over Democrspantic opponents, Univision poll shows
From the debate:Five tspankespanwspanys from Floridspan governor rspance debspante between Ron DeSspanntis spannd Chspanrlie Crist
DeSantis also signed bills banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and restricting how race can be discussed in schools and businesses.
Such actions made DeSantis one of the most polarizing GOP leaders in America, vilified on the left and lauded on the right. Importantly for the governor, many in between seemed to side with his approach.
Crist seized on DeSantis’s record to try and cast him as a bully and a budding authoritarian who was trampling on the rights of women and LGBTQ people and seeking to whitewash America’s troubled racial history.
Much of Crist’s campaign centered around the abortion issue, a tactic that ultimately proved ineffective and was questioned by some Democrats. He also highlighted Florida’s affordability problems in arguing that DeSantis was too focused on advancing his political career through culture war battles, instead of helping people struggling with rising costs.
Crist took the stage before a few dozen supporters in St. Petersburg Tuesday less than an hour after the polls closed.
In remarks that lasted about two minutes, he congratulated DeSantis, thanked supporters and waxed poetic about a state that had once sent him to the governor’s mansion.
“Florida has been great to me my entire life,” he said. “It’s been an absolute blessing to serve as your governor before, to serve as the congressman for my hometown. I feel like the most blessed man ever.”
Crist received little aid from national Democratic groups
Crist’s $32 million in fundraising was dwarfed by DeSantis’s massive campaign resources. AdImpact estimates that $72.5 million was spent on television ads in the race, with $54.6 million of that supporting DeSantis.
National Democratic groups invested little to help Crist.
A memo sent out by Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz Tuesday notes that the Democratic Governors Association and an affiliated PAC spent just $737,964 in Florida this year, compared to $8.1 million in 2018. More broadly, seven major Democratic groups involved in races for governor, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House spent $1.4 million in Florida this year, compared to $59 million in 2018.
That paltry spending indicates national Democratic leaders don’t view Florida as competitive. They were right.
Crist’s campaign never gained much traction and DeSantis barely even acknowledged him, preferring instead to focus his attacks on President Joe Biden. A matchup between DeSantis and Biden might not be far off, but first he likely would have to get through Trump, who said Monday night that he would announce his White House intentions next Tuesday.
It remains to be seen if the two Floridians will faceoff in a GOP presidential primary. What’s clear is that Florida is now the center of the GOP universe, home to the two biggest stars in the party and the vanguard of Republican policymaking.
Florida continues its Republican tilt
DeSantis is certain to continue the state’s rightward policy shift, having promised more abortion restrictions and new gun rights legislation in his second term. He should have a Legislature eager to support that agenda, with Republicans holding solid majorities in each chamber.
“We’ve got so much more to do, and I have only begun to fight,” DeSantis said Tuesday.
Republicans have held the governor’s mansion in Florida since 1999, but Democrats were competitive in past elections. They came especially close in 2018, with DeSantis narrowly winning by the tightest margin of any governor’s race in Florida history.
Since then, though, the state has taken a hard right turn and now increasingly looks out of reach for Democrats.
Long viewed as the nation’s largest swing state, Florida could be an afterthought in contests for the presidency and U.S. Senate going forward.
Gruters said the GOP’s dominance is “not a fluke.”
“This is the result of years of efforts by the Republican Party of Florida and our candidates,” he said.
Anthony Pedicini, a top Florida GOP consultant, wondered on Twitter whether the state was experiencing a “major shift” in it’s “political geography” as red areas turned blue.
“Time will tell how the DeSantis affect will change the landscape of Florida politics,” Pedicini said in a text message. “But one thing is certain, where other parts of this country are seeing a red wave, Governor DeSantis creates a Tsunami.”
Democrats were despondent Tuesday. With Republicans far outpacing Democrats in turnout, prominent Democratic consultant Kevin Cate tweeted Tuesday afternoon – before any numbers were released on how candidates’ performed – that Democrats need a “reset”
“At the rate Florida is going, an (No Party Affiliation) candidate for governor may have a better shot than a Democrat in 2026,” Cate said. “It’s that bad. Complete collapse. We either reset or go extinct.”