TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis rode President Trump’s endorsement to victory in Florida’s Republican primary for governor Tuesday, defeating a longtime favorite of the Republican establishment with a campaign based largely around the president.
DeSantis, who spent much of his campaign on Fox News defending Trump, beat out Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who had seemingly built up the run for governor his entire adult life after being elected to office as a 22-year-old.
DeSantis was first elected to Congress in 2012, running as a Washington outsider. His television ads were Trump-focused, including one where his toddler stacks bricks while DeSantis exclaims, “Build the wall!”
The strategy worked, and many voters say that’s what swayed them to DeSantis.
Sharon Grant said she was planning to vote for Putnam — until Trump weighed in on the race.
“I changed my vote when Trump supported DeSantis,” said the 67-year-old retiree from Pinellas County. “I also loved his commercial, the one with the kids.”
DeSantis entered the race a month after Trump’s December tweeted that he would make “a GREAT governor.” He then appeared on Fox News more than 100 times, and Trump held a rally for him in Tampa. Suddenly, he was considered the favorite over Putnam, who raised more money, campaigned longer, built support among the party establishment and ran a traditional grassroots campaign.
DeSantis, who turns 40 next month, is a former Navy lawyer. He also ran for Senate in 2016 but dropped out when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio shut down his presidential campaign and decided to run for re-election.
Supporters at DeSantis’ party in Orlando chanted “Ron! Ron! Ron!” when he was declared the GOP nominee Tuesday evening.
Putnam was elected to the state House in 1996, to the U.S. House in 2000 and to his current job in 2010. He had become one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress before deciding to run for agriculture commissioner.
DeSantis will now face the Democratic nominee to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Facing off in the Democratic primary were former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire Jeff Greene, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.
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