LAKE CITY, Fla.—With just four days until Election Day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a 13-stop “Don’t Tread on Florida” tour on Nov. 4, plotting a course from top to bottom, and from side to side across the state.
Appearing with his wife, Casey, he aimed to connect with voters one last time before Tuesday.
DeSantis appears to lead against his Democrat challenger, former Congressman Charlie Crist, by 11 points, according to a mid-October poll by Florida Atlantic University. The poll suggests DeSantis has an overall approval rating of 53 percent.
But he hasn’t been counting on that.
On Nov. 4, his campaign announced that its well-organized army of volunteers had knocked on the doors of two million homes to reach Florida voters.
The night before DeSantis embarked on his last push to reach voters around the state, he made good on a promise to visit a college campus smack dab in the middle of rural North Florida.
The rally, originally planned earlier in the campaign, had been postponed due to Hurricane Ian.
About 1,200 supporters were greeted upon arrival at Florida Gateway College by an oversized American flag and a Florida flag, both undulating high over the driveway, suspended between the extended arms of four bucket trucks.
Fans of the governor ambled in wearing cowboy boots, jeans, and ball caps. About half raised their hands when asked by DeSantis to indicate if they’d already voted. The other half poked palms skyward when asked if they preferred to cast ballots on Election Day.
“I’ve spent four years fighting for you, and now you guys get one day to come out and fight for me,” DeSantis encouraged.
As has been his style throughout the campaign, he ignored his opponent, former Congressman Charlie Crist, a Democrat. Crist previously served as a Republican governor before registering as an Independent in an unsuccessful bid to run for U.S. Senate. Until his recent resignation, he’s served the last five years as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But DeSantis didn’t talk about that.
Instead, he launched right into his favorite campaign topic—what he calls the “failed policies” of President Joe Biden. DeSantis is widely expected to run against Biden in 2024, if he can earn the Republican Party’s nomination. So far, he’s deftly demurred on the subject.
When asked about a hypothetical match-up in the October poll, voters chose DeSantis over Biden, 48 percent to 42 percent.
Biden visited the state on Nov. 1 to stump for Crist and other Democratic candidates. In his remarks, DeSantis drew guffaws from his supporters two days later, when he mockingly said he should have offered to pay for Biden to extend his visit through to Election Day.
“Do I have to declare that as an in-kind contribution to my campaign?” DeSantis jeered.
He said his reaction to Biden’s planned rally appearance for Crist was, “Are you telling me he’s coming down here and reminding Floridians that Democrats in this state vote with him 100 percent of the time? OK. Go ahead! In fact, I should make the offer: ‘Spend the rest of the campaign in Florida! We’ll pay for you; we’ll find a place to keep you, put you up. We’ll fund everything. Please go out and tell everybody about how the Democrats in the state are in lockstep with your failed policy.’”
For the next 46 minutes, DeSantis tackled Biden relentlessly, bringing up sore spots for Americans, such as inflation and the so-called Inflation Reduction Act. The bill’s name shows lawmakers were “insulting our intelligence,” DeSantis said.
The legislation, among other things, adds 87,000 gun-toting agents to the Internal Revenue Service roster.
They’re not going to go after “liberals in Hollywood and Manhattan,” DeSantis predicted.
“Those IRS agents are gonna go after people like you. They’re gonna go after people who don’t have a fleet of accountants or lawyers, and they’re gonna use the power of government to crush small businesses, to crush sole proprietors, to crush a handyman who may be doing work around the community.
“And I just say that any member of Congress that voted for those 87,000 IRS agents should be required to be audited by the IRS,” he said, causing the room to erupt in cheers.
“Why don’t we do 87,000 Border Patrol agents?”
He eviscerated Biden over his policies that have allowed illegal immigrants to flood across the Southern border with Mexico, many bringing in deadly Fentanyl causing the deaths of Americans.
He berated Biden for fuel shortages, rising costs of groceries, and the fear Americans have living in communities that no longer feel safe. He scorned progressive policies to defund police, yet allow criminals to commit crimes without fear of incarceration.
‘God and Family’
Charles Welch, a colonel with the Florida Department of Corrections, runs a state prison in Lake Butler. He’s always held conservative values that focus on “God and family,” he told The Epoch Times. But he’s not been the sort to attend political rallies.
“This was my first, and I thought it was phenomenal,” he grinned, as he headed for his car with his wife, who held a DeSantis yard sign.
The governor’s support of law enforcement has meant one salary increase for him already, and another promised soon, at a time of pressure from an increased cost of living.
He was impressed, he said, by the governor’s demeanor—”calm, cool, collected, and confident.”
DeSantis earned more cheers at the rally as he touted his now-famous pushback against federal pandemic policies. He recalled unrelenting criticism he faced for allowing kids back into schools, allowing businesses to reopen, banning vaccine passports and mandates, and more.
“I was taking a lot of arrows,” he said. “My whole view of leadership is, I have to be more concerned with saving your jobs than I do with protecting my own.”
He predicted that mandated COVID-19 vaccines for children would “take off right after the elections. The good thing is, you guys have me.”
He continued over applause, “We worked with the Legislature, and we prohibited any COVID shot mandates for school children. Schools can’t do it” in Florida.
He expressed frustration with how pandemic “overreactions” forced many to die alone, as loved ones were blocked from visiting hospitals and nursing homes. He signed legislation preventing that from happening again.
He bemoaned how frontline workers—dubbed heroes at the beginning of the pandemic—later were fired for choosing not to get the COVID jab.
“With the COVID stuff, we made a decision that we weren’t going to try to grind people down with these mandates. We wanted to lift people up. We wanted to find ways to lift people’s spirits.”
He spoke of the massive influx since then of new residents and tourists coming to Florida, including elected officials, escaping their own state’s lockdowns.
“We really served as a refuge of sanity when this whole world went mad in the last few years.”
Rejecting Woke Ideology
DeSantis touted policies and legislation that rejected woke ideology, and put parents back in charge of raising their children.
He spoke about his refusal to back away from the Parental Rights in Education bill, misleadingly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, even after Disney demanded it.
“We run the state on the best interests of the people of Florida,” he said. “We do not delegate our leadership to a California-based corporation. We lead, and we do what’s right. And we don’t care about corporate pressure or any other media pressure. So they thought I was gonna back down. They thought wrong.”
He talked about the state ban on biological males competing as transgender athletes against biological females. And when sports leagues threatened to protest by refusing to hold competitions in the state, DeSantis said he was unperturbed.
“I was like, ‘Go ahead. Make my day. What do I care?’”
He spoke about the state Board of Medicine’s recent decision to strip physicians of their medical licenses if they perform sex-change operations on minors.
And, “we’ve done things like ban critical race theory in our K through 12 schools. Our schools are not teaching kids to hate our country or hate each other. We’re going to make sure to teach the real history. We’re going to make sure to teach about the Constitution. They’re gonna learn about our founding fathers, our founding principles. They’re going to learn what it means to be an American and how lucky we are.”
And on Nov. 7, he noted, new legislation mandates an annual day for students “to learn about the horrors of the communist regimes throughout history. We’re gonna teach the truth.”
He continued over applause, “I think that when students get the real truth on that, they’re gonna feel very, very happy that they are Americans and are able to grow up in the United States of America.”
He softened as he mentioned his three young children, and his wife, who announced in February that she had conquered breast cancer.
He spoke of how she’s raised $52 million to help victims of Hurricane Ian. And he mentioned a campaign commercial she created without any input from him or consultants. It’s nothing like the “typical phony garbage,” he said.
He asserted that “wokeness” is taking over the country. He warned that the Nov. 8 election would decide if left-wing ideology will be allowed to pack the U.S. Supreme Court, abolish the electoral college, turn Washington, D.C. into a state with two U.S. Senators, eliminate voter ID, and mandate ballot harvesting.
In an effort to block that, he posted support earlier that day on Twitter support for Maine incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, and a cavalcade of Trump-endorsed Republican candidates.
One post showered praise on retired Gen. Don Bolduc, running for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. Another urged support for Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican who served as an unflappable White House Press Secretary under Trump.
He encouraged voters to elect gubernatorial candidates Mark Ronchetti in New Mexico, and Derek Schmidt, in Kansas. And he endorsed Wisconsin incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, and Tim Michels, a businessman running for governor of the state.
Ohioans need to elect businessman J.D. Vance to the U.S. Senate, DeSantis posted, and he urged support for the reelection of the state’s governor, Kevin Stitt.
Pennsylvanians, he posted, should vote for retired U.S. Army Col. Doug Mastriano for governor and Dr. Mehmet Oz for U.S. Senate. and he urged Arizonans to support former newscaster Kari Lake for governor and venture capitalist Blake Masters for U.S. Senate.
He promoted Nevada’s former attorney general, Adam Laxalt, for U.S. Senate. And he’s endorsed a slew of other Republicans in high-profile races, including Trump-endorsee Lee Zeldin, who’s challenging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The results of the upcoming election matter tremendously, he insisted.
“The last few years have shown us our freedom’s a lot more fragile than anything a lot of us would have said even four or five years ago.”
He added, “One of the things I’m proudest of is, with me at the helm, and what we’ve done in the state of Florida, we’ve been a roadblock to all these people who want to change our country for the worse. We have stood strong as the citadel of freedom.
“Florida is the place where woke goes to die.”