TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The race to become the Republican party’s 2024 presidential nominee is shaping up to be a ‘battle of the Florida men’ – former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis – and with the first primary contests approaching, high-ranking state party members have started choosing sides.
Sen. Rick Scott – DeSantis’ predecessor as governor – urged GOP voters to “unite behind Donald Trump” in an opinion piece published to Newsweek on Thursday.
“I support my friend President Donald J. Trump to be the 47th president of the United States and encourage every Republican to unite behind his efforts to win back the White House,” Scott wrote.
In an email, a Trump campaign spokesperson said Scott’s endorsement is “a major body blow” to DeSantis. Scott, who is seeking reelection in 2024, did not mention DeSantis or the other primary candidates by name, but threw a bit of praise in their direction.
“Make no mistake: every single one of them would be a better president than Joe Biden,” Scott wrote. “But Republican voters are making their voices heard loud and clear. They want to return to the leadership of Donald Trump.”
Voters haven’t had the chance to officially weigh in, as the first contest is the Iowa caucus in January, but polling has consistently indicated that Trump is the clear favorite. An average of polls by FiveThirtyEight on Thursday showed Trump sitting at just under 60% of the vote, while DeSantis has only 12.8% support.
DeSantis lost footing in the polls as Republican voters rallied around Trump in the wake of his criminal indictments. In a campaign that has been overshadowed by technical glitches, staffing shake-ups and footwear-focused social media theories, DeSantis’ path to the presidency is not quite clear.
“I’d never demand or even ask that another candidate drop out of a political contest,” Scott wrote. “That’s a decision for every candidate to make for themselves.”
DeSantis has not spoken to Scott since Hurricane Idalia struck Florida, according to NBC News. Scott said the governor “never talked to (him) about an endorsement.”
In a statement to NBC News, a DeSantis campaign spokesperson touted his support from other Florida officials, as well as those in early voting states.
“Ron DeSantis has more endorsements from state legislators than the former president in Iowa (41), New Hampshire (62), and South Carolina (16). He also has the support of almost all Florida elected officials because he worked with them to deliver historic results for the conservative movement. The governor will win his home state because Floridians want to see a fighter who will bring the same type of results-oriented leadership to Washington that he has provided in the Sunshine State.”Andrew Romeo, DeSantis Campaign Communications Director
Attention has shifted to Florida in recent weeks, as GOP candidates prepare to debate in Miami on Nov. 8. Trump plans to skip the event in favor of a campaign rally in the nearby city of Hialeah.
Republicans will gather Saturday for the Florida Freedom Summit, which features the major GOP presidential candidates. As NBC News reported Wednesday, Trump allies have launched an effort to flip Florida lawmakers from DeSantis endorsers into Trump supporters.