It has been a tougher-than-expected start to the general election campaign for gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis. Since stumbling out of the gate following his solid primary win, the polls have shown his opponent, Andrew Gillum, consistently leading, albeit usually within the margin of error. With a month to go before the election, that is a bridgeable gap, and one DeSantis is now working to cover.
In a noteworthy move, the DeSantis camp made a decision to reboot things of a sort, by bringing in former Trump Florida operative Susie Wiles to act as campaign manager. Quickly, DeSantis' messaging has become streamlined and more direct. He is also addressing the weaknesses of his opponent.
One issue that has seeped to the forefront of the campaign has been the algae bloom issues facing the state. DeSantis has been wise to address this head on, say his supporters, and it shows the renewed focus of the campaign. He actually has been vocal on the issue for weeks, and as Gillum came forward just last week with his algae/red tide proposals, DeSantis already had traction.
As the mayor of Tallahassee gave a rather general proposal on Wednesday -- for example, invoking carbon emissions and fracking during his red tide proposal -- DeSantis was able to quickly parry. As Gillum was touting his environmental record, DeSantis fired back with facts. He points out that left-leaning PolitiFact contested Gillum’s carbon claims, noting that Tallahassee had been reducing its output ahead of Gillum’s involvement. Additionally, the city’s carbon output actually increased from 2014 through 2016.
DeSantis by comparison has proposed more direct methods to address the environmental problems. He said as soon as he is in office he will acquire federal matching funds to apply toward Everglades restoration projects, and he has voiced the possibility of toughening penalties on polluters. He also said he would intercede with the Army Corps of Engineers on the fresh-water discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Gillum, by way of defensive response, resorts to tying DeSantis to Donald Trump’s global position on the environment. It's a tired tactic, but one that likely appeals to his supporters. It does not seem persuasive to independents who are concerned with Florida’s water issue to hear, “But Trump backed out of Paris.”
The renewed DeSantis talking outreach also has moved on to address Gillum’s threat to the state economy, suggesting his policies will return our economy to the 2008-2009 danger zone, and worse. Also mentioned more frequently are Gillum's legal issues in Tallahassee, as the municipality is entangled in an FBI investigation. Whether the mayor is any part of that investigation remains a question even the Bureau hasn't publicly put to rest. These issues will be amplified further in the coming weeks, as the race for the Governor's Mansion becomes even more contentious.
One final saving grace for the GOP candidate is one he could not account for. In the past weeks as the nation has been caught up in the rabid debate surrounding Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh, there has been an unforeseen result: The deeply partisan divide on the appointment, and the smear campaign in which the Democrats have been engaged, has had a galvanizing effect on the Republican Party.
Factions within the party that have been divided are now seen as coming together in the face of the bitter actions by Senate Democrats and their assistants in the press. There are indicators the SCOTUS fight is mobilizing more on the Republican side than previously expected. This can only help a candidate for a major office who has been lagging in the polls. DeSantis may see himself actually lifted by more than one Red Tide in the lead up to the election.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.