‘It’s going to be great to watch:’ Local political experts weigh in on DeSantis White House bid

Tallahassee political experts weigh in on Gov. DeSantis’s White House bid
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 7:24 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The two most talked-about contenders for the GOP Nomination for president are now officially in the running.

Months after Donald Trump announced his intentions to seek the White House, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launched his presidential campaign on Twitter with Elon Musk Wednesday.

While the field is getting more crowded, experts in Tallahassee are focused on the two Floridians vying for the nod.

Lonna Atkeson is the director of the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, and an expert on elections. She said she’ll be closely watching how Trump and DeSantis spar in the early goings, and whether DeSantis responds to any of the Trump Camp’s early advertisements targeting the governor.

“One interesting thing is to see how DeSantis plays that, or if he responds. He’s been sort of not responding to any of that at the moment,” she said.

Atkeson believes DeSantis is starting on solid ground, announcing his campaign in the wake of a landslide reelection victory in 2022. Comparing that data to Trump’s 2020 results in Florida shows a pattern, she said.

“DeSantis beat Trump on every measure, in terms of the proportion of the vote he got, the percentage of women he got, he beat Trump on every measure,” she said.

Mac Stipanovich is no stranger to Tallahassee politics. The longtime Republican strategist and lobbyist became an independent following the 2016 election, unwilling to support Trump or DeSantis.

He argues DeSantis’s political career since 2018 can be broken down into three phases.

The first phase, as he campaigned for the governor’s mansion, was total support for the then-Commander-in-Chief, he said.

“It was Trump Trump Trump Trump all the time,” he said.

He argues the second phase was a move to the right center. DeSantis focused on teacher pay bumps and certain environmental issues, winning over more independent minds.

But then came the Coronavirus pandemic, and DeSantis turned farther to the right. The governor received positive feedback from certain circles, and dug in, Stipanovich said.

“He became addicted to that feedback and still continues to feed them more and more red meat, which is how he became the culture warrior he is,” he said.

Atkeson points to the governor’s deep war chest, which she said was a sign of deep-pocketed supporters from beyond Florida.

But Stipanovich remains unconvinced DeSantis will outsmart Trump in the months to come.

“The likelihood of all of that happening is on the order of me dunking a basketball for the first time at 74. It’s possible, but not likely.”

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