TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a presidential campaign event in Tampa on Thursday to tout his “law and order” agenda.
Speaking to a crowd of less than 200 supporters, the governor appeared alongside Attorney General Ashley Moody and some of the Florida sheriffs who recently endorsed him.
The DeSantis campaign announced Thursday that a bipartisan group of 60 state law enforcement officials signed onto a memo expressing support for his presidential campaign. All but three were Republicans.
The governor continued to lean on his “law and order” rhetoric to attract conservative voters. An August poll from New York Times/Siena found Republicans prefer a candidate more focused on “restoring law and order” rather than “defeating radical ‘woke’ ideology,” which is a staple of DeSantis’ political platform.
DeSantis said crime is “at a 50-year low” in his state, referring to an often-cited Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report. Critics have claimed the report is not necessarily a complete picture of crime in the state, as it includes 2021 crime data from law enforcement agencies representing just 57.5% of Florida’s population.
As governor, DeSantis chose Tampa as the stage for some big political moves, including signing controversial legislation and ousting Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren. He did not mention Warren by name during Thursday’s event, but he touted the removal of “Soros-funded prosecutors.”
“We took action and removed them from their post, because we’re not going to put the public in jeopardy,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis returned to Tampa amid a tumultuous primary season, where he is currently clinging to his long-held second-place standing. Each candidate in the crowded GOP field has tried to sell themselves as an alternative to former President Donald Trump, but he remains the clear frontrunner.
The governor used the opportunity to take a number of jabs at the former president.
“Nobody is entitled to be nominated, especially somebody who couldn’t even stop Joe Biden,” DeSantis said.
He took another shot at Trump while discussing the southern border with Mexico.
“I will actually get the wall built,” DeSantis said. “We’re not going to just sloganeer about it.”
In May, DeSantis kicked off his presidential run during a virtual event plagued with glitches. The campaign has faced several setbacks on the road to the GOP nomination – from abrupt staffing shake-ups, doubts among high-profile donors, and slipping poll numbers.
A recent Marquette University national poll suggested DeSantis lost more than half of his support among Republican voters between March and September. Many appear to be coalescing around Trump amid his mounting criminal indictments, while some are pivoting to DeSantis’ other primary opponents.
Political Analyst Tara Newsom of St. Pete College said the DeSantis campaign is in trouble.
“I think ever since Gov. DeSantis launched his campaign, he’s had trouble connecting with voters,” Newsom said.
DeSantis is well behind in the polls, Newsom said, and more importantly, he is well behind in fundraising.
“Governor DeSantis has a real problem,” Newsom said. “How far and how fast can he go even in Iowa? It looks very clear right now, he’ll be second or third. Can he then hold on to enough financing to make it to New Hampshire and even South Carolina? It looks like with the way they are burning through money, that may actually not happen.”
The DeSantis campaign maintains that he is in the midst of a “comeback” as he raked in $15 million in fundraising last quarter. About a third of his staff is relocating to the early primary state of Iowa, the campaign announced Wednesday.
When asked why Trump has $30 million more than he does to spend on the primaries, DeSantis used his answer to take another swipe at Trump.
“Well, why is he raising all of that money and where is it going to?” DeSantis asked. “Isn’t it going to a lot of lawyers?”
Outside of Thursday’s event, protesters sold hats and T-shirts for Trump. One woman even used a bullhorn to try and interrupt DeSantis, saying he would never be the president.