DeSantis to headline rallies for key GOP candidates across the country

·5 min read
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ron DeSantis is taking his growing clout among national Republicans on the road, where he’ll be the main attraction at events for Senate and gubernatorial candidates in key races across the country.

The Republican Florida governor later this month is hosting a series of rallies with conservative education group Turning Point Action to boost campaigns for Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters and the state's GOP nominee for governor, Kari Lake; Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance; and Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who was at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Each of the candidates DeSantis is campaigning for has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

The rallies are being billed by Turning Point Action as a way to help “unite” the Republican Party after a series of brutal and high-profile primary fights that at times pitted Trump’s endorsed candidate with one backed by more establishment Republicans.

"Gov. DeSantis is America’s governor and one of the most popular leaders in America," Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point Action, told Fox News, which was first to report on the DeSantis’ campaign effort. "He has become the model for a new conservative movement that is willing to stand on principle and to actually fight on behalf of the values of his voters."

When reached for comment by POLITICO, Turning Point USA Action said it had nothing to add beyond Kirk’s previous statement. DeSantis’ campaign declined to comment.

The rallies, the first of which begin Aug. 14 in Phoenix for Masters and Lake, come just ahead of Florida’s Aug. 23 primary. DeSantis faces no real primary challenger and is a heavy favorite headed into the general election, where he will face either Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), the state’s former Republican governor now running as a Democrat, or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Headlining a series of out-of-state rallies as his own general election campaign approaches is a sign of his campaign team’s confidence in their position and yet another signal that DeSantis is trying to expand his national network ahead of what many view as a 2024 run for the White House. Although DeSantis has campaigned for other Republicans in the past, including Nevada GOP Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt, the August rallies represent the first time the governor is being deployed for such high-profile races ahead of the November midterms.

DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic, where he kept Florida’s economy shut down for far shorter periods of time than other states, helped endear him to conservatives. He has now been dubbed “America’s Governor” by Republicans across the country, has held multiple out-of-state fundraisers as big-dollar donors feel him out and is in high demand as candidates try to tap into some of the energy DeSantis has created with the GOP base. DeSantis has even bested Trump in a handful of straw polls, though the former president is still wildly popular with the party.

Masters, the Arizona Republican Senate candidate, says he hopes his state follows in Florida’s footsteps.

“Thanks to Mark Kelly, Arizonans have none of the basics—a secure border, safe streets, functioning economy, or schools that actually teach our kids,” he said in a statement. “By contrast, look at everything Governor Ron DeSantis has done for Floridians to keep their state strong, safe, and free of the woke mob.”

Lake, that state's GOP nominee for governor, beat Mike Pence-backed Karrin Taylor Robson to win her primary. A former TV newscaster who has made false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, Lake said she’ll be excited to work with DeSantis.

"I’m honored to call him an ally and I can’t wait for him to join me in taking the message and vision of our ‘America First’ campaign out to the masses,” she said in a statement.

Some members of the Republican Party are toying with the idea of creating distance from Trump as the general election begins. There’s been some fatigue setting in among Republican donors across the country, and some party leaders increasingly see DeSantis as a way to create Trump-like energy and policy outcomes in a less divisive way for Republicans — even as his focus on culture war-type fights turns him into one of the most controversial political figures for Democrats.

“There’s heartburn among some conservatives over whether Trump is more divisive or energizing, especially in a general election. I don't think there is that same sort of heartburn around DeSantis,” said a Republican consultant familiar with the DeSantis campaign events. “There’s no question Trump played the primary kingmaker. This might be an opportunity for DeSantis to play kingmaker in the general.”

“He might be the unique political figure who can unite the various wings of the party,” the consultant said.

Masters and Vance are in two of the most closely watched Senate races, as Republicans try to gain control of the upper chamber. Democrats have a slight advantage in the 50-50 Senate since Vice President Kamala Harris provides a the tie-breaking vote.

That vote was needed over the weekend when, on a 51-50 vote, the Senate passed Democrats’ long-sought climate, tax and health care package, which was seen as a big win headed into the otherwise dreary midterm cycle for Democrats, especially with President Joe Biden’s approval rating hovering in the 30s.

Vance said in a statement he looks forward to having DeSantis in the Buckeye state.

The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is led by Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott, said it welcomes the rallies for its endorsed candidates.

“It’s great to see more folks getting involved. We have great candidates running across the country who are fighting to save our country from Joe Biden and the Democrat’s disastrous agenda,” said NRSC spokesperson Chris Hartline. “Anyone who cares about the future of our country should be getting involved and helping our candidates win.”

Natalie Allison contributed to this report.