Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen as the biggest GOP threat to former President Trump’s 2024 White House campaign, is visiting Southern California this weekend to promote his new book and curry favor while raising money for Republicans in conservative strongholds.
DeSantis, who has been at odds with California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, has not officially announced a presidential bid. However, his Sunday appearances before nearly 2,000 well-to-do donors and influential Republicans in Simi Valley and Anaheim are yet another signal that he is considering a bid for the GOP nomination.
California is a common stopover for presidential candidates because the state is a major source of campaign money for politicians in both parties. DeSantis’ visit also comes days after a poll shows he has overtaken Trump among the state’s Republican voters as their choice to be their party’s presidential nominee next year.
GOP strategist Kevin Spillane argued that DeSantis is a perfect fit for California Republicans who are tired of the former president’s drama and are looking for a seasoned politician with a conservative track record on taxes, regulations and COVID policies.
“You may not like him, but he’s smart, tough and capable. Most Republicans are looking for a strong president, not a hug from our candidate,” said Spillane, who donated $6,000 to DeSantis’ gubernatorial reelection campaign last year.
Spillane said that while he admires former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who has announced a presidential campaign, and South Carolina senator Tim Scott, who is expected to make a bid, he thinks DeSantis is the best choice to win the to challenge former president.
“I believe he’s the only one who can stop Trump, and he’s the one who can bring the party together,” said Spillane, who has opposed Trump since the 2016 election.
GOP strategist Rob Stutzman noted that while much of DeSantis’ Florida track record would appeal to California Republicans, he questioned whether some of his decisions — including his battle with the Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. – going the wrong way. After the company opposed a Florida law that banned discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, DeSantis signed a law that ended the company’s system of self-government over approximately 40 square miles with Walt Disney World and other properties.
“I don’t know if anyone wants to feel protective of Disney,” Stutzman said. “But that’s starting to clash with the fascist idea of using government to bend speech to your point of view.”
DeSantis writes about his feud with the company in his book “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” which was released Tuesday. In a chapter titled “The Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism,” DeSantis said he advised then-Chief Executive Bob Chapek to stay out of the battle over the legislation, which critics called “Don’t Say Gay.”
He will discuss the book Sunday afternoon before about 1,000 people at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Later that night, he will lead a fundraiser for the Orange County Republican Party at an Anaheim resort. More than 900 people have purchased tickets for the private fundraiser — ranging from $500 individual seats to $15,000 to be a platinum sponsor, which includes a VIP reception, photos with the governor and an autographed copy of his book.
Protests are planned, including a Sunday afternoon by Trump supporters in Newport Beach.
Orange County GOP leaders declined to disclose the location of DeSantis’ evening performance. However, they said it was the biggest event in county party history, a remarkable achievement in a historic conservative stronghold that then-President Reagan described in 1988 as “where the good Republicans go before they die.”
Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the provincial GOP, expects DeSantis’ performance to be followed by other White House hopefuls as California pushed its presidential primary to March 2024. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who is a presidential bid is scheduled to appear on March 20; Haley and Scott will be visiting soon.
While California is mostly Democratic, it is home to millions of GOP voters and many of the nation’s largest political donors.
In 2020, the state was the main source of revenue for Joe Biden’s campaign committee and for outside groups that supported his bid — all more than
$300 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. California was the No. 3 source of financial support for Trump and independent organizations that supported him, raising more than $92 million. These numbers are significant underestimates because they do not account for contributions to political action committees or individual donations of less than $200.
While DeSantis isn’t raising any money for himself during this visit, Californians donated more than $800,000 toward his 2022 re-election as Florida governor. He headlined a September fundraiser that cost up to $25,000 a couple at the $50 million, 30,000-square-foot Newport Coast mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean owned by “Undercover Billionaire” star Glenn Stearns and his wife, Mindy , a former TV host from Los Angeles. entertainment reporter. Stearns made his fortune by establishing a mortgage lender.
DeSantis is popular with smaller donors in California, including Gershon Luria of Alameda County, 71.
“I love him. I will donate him as soon as I have some money available, and especially if he decides to run,” said Luria, who contributed $25 to a pro-DeSantis political action committee in 2021. He said he and his wife “from our pension plus anything else we can get. But I would donate as much as I can.”
California also has the most Republican voters of any state in the country and the largest delegation in the nomination contest at the 2024 Republican National Convention.
“If you’re even thinking about running for president of the United States, you need to get there before those March primaries in California,” Whitaker said. “You’ll see these candidates spend time on the ground.”
State GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson said California has a dual appeal for candidates given the state’s wealth of donors and delegates.
“We will see many if not all of these candidates coming through California, not just to raise money – although that is an added benefit – but to meet voters who convince them why they should be our candidate,” she said.
DeSantis is expected to meet wealthy lenders during his brief visit to California. GOP strategists said his Florida record appeals to donors who oppose Newsom’s liberal policies, including the pandemic restrictions he introduced at the start of the crisis.
“Government DeSantis brings a lot to the party in California compared to what we have here. Running a state with fewer taxes and fewer regulations appeals to many Californians,” said Howard Hakes, chairman of the New Majority, the state’s largest Republican political action committee.
Hakes said DeSantis’ governance of Florida is a clear contrast to Newsom.
“When we look at the two states and put them side by side, it was — especially during the pandemic — a lot easier to get things done in the state of Florida than it was in the state of California,” Hakes said.
The two governors, both easily re-elected to a second term in November, are increasingly using each other as foils on issues such as abortion, immigration and education.
Newsom’s first general election campaign aired July 4 in Florida urging residents of the state to fight DeSantis’ policies or move to California “where we still believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom to choose , freedom from hate and the freedom to love. .”
DeSantis responded by accusing Newsom of treating Californians like “farmers” because of the state’s pandemic lockdowns, and his spokesperson said Newsom had turned the state into a “hellhole.”
The conversation between the two men has since been carried over.
After battling immigration policy last year, DeSantis said Newsom’s “hair gel interferes with his brain function.” Newsom countered that they should confer, “I’ll bring my hair gel.” You bring your hairspray. Name the time before Election Day.”
Times staff writer Vanessa Arredondo contributed to this report.