A large and diverse collection of elected and formerly elected Arizona Republicans have signed a letter urging Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to run for President. A full dozen current state legislators signed the letter, including House Speaker Ben Toma and House Majority Whip Teresa Martinez, as did a number of other current office holders. Quite a few former officeholders also signed, including Congressmen Matt Salmon and Frank Riggs, former Senate President Steve Yarbrough, and former State Senator Eddie Farnsworth.
The letter was reportedly circulated earlier this year and is part of a larger effort aimed at recruiting the popular Florida Governor into the Presidential race – something most observers feel is very likely to occur in the next month or so.
It has been reported that House Speaker Ben Toma, who authored both the largest tax cut in state history and the largest school choice expansion in the nation at the time, spoke with the Florida Governor to let him know that the letter was coming and to encourage him to take the plunge.
Arizona-based conservative consultant Constantin Querard is among those who has been active in preparing for a DeSantis candidacy. Querard ran booths at County and State GOP meetings and has been to districts around the state signing up volunteers for an eventual DeSantis campaign, and he says the reaction has been fairly strong. “Activists want a conservative as President so they are looking for someone with both a proven track record of accomplishment, and a history of winning tough races, and Governor DeSantis is the clear choice in the 2024 field.” Querard said. He added that DeSantis would likely find increased support in battleground states thanks to what he calls “the DeSantis effect” and how it impacted Florida. “Florida was the ultimate swing state just a few years ago, and it is now a solid Republican state because its citizens have seen what competent conservative leadership can provide. That’s the message and messenger we need to win the other swing states like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.”
To be certain, Donald Trump remains the prohibitive favorite in the Arizona primary, which takes place late in the GOP primary calendar. And GOP candidates in 2022 went to great lengths to woo the former President and try to earn his endorsement. Those Trump endorsed found success in their primary campaigns, although his endorsed candidates largely struggled and lost competitive races in November’s general election, including Kari Lake (Governor), Blake Masters (US Senate), and Mark Finchem (Secretary of State). Lake is still pursuing court challenges to her election outcome.
That dynamic of support for Trump among GOP faithful voters and the reluctance of general election voters to support Trump-endorsed candidates in general elections is on the mind of political operatives and candidates alike, as they try to navigate the 2024 campaign.
Trump won Arizona in 2016 by 85,000 votes but lost it to Biden in 2020 by a narrow 11,000 votes.
State Senator Steve Kaiser, one of the signers of the letter, seemed to give voice to those concerns when he explained why Republicans were signing up as volunteers or signing letters urging DeSantis to run. “We need a candidate who can unite and lead our Party, we want a President who can win and serve a full two terms to properly drain the swamp, and we want someone who will fight and win the policy battles that need to be fought.”
Other signers are motivated by other high-profile DeSantis positions, like his support for school choice or how Florida navigated Covid-19 and the mandates and shutdowns, particularly when compared to other states or to the federal government itself. “During Covid, DeSantis led the country for medical freedom and pushed back against the top-down guidance coming from the CDC-Fauci public health regime. Even my own mother who still resides in Pennsylvania spent some time in Florida during Covid to not only find sunshine, but some freedom to move about since Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania had the state locked down.” said former State Representative and 2022 candidate for Secretary of State Shawnna Bolick.
Other signers of the letter included State Senators Ken Bennett, J.D. Mesnard, TJ Shope and State Representatives David Cook, Lupe Diaz, Kevin Payne, Beverly Pingerelli, and Justin Wilmeth. Joining them are Yuma County Supervisor Jonathan Lines, Goodyear City Councilwoman Vicki Gillis, and West-MEC board member Robert Garcia, along with former elected Republican officeholders Regina Cobb, Jeff Dial, Sandra Dowling, Nora Ellen, Rick Gray, Vince Leach, and Jeff Weninger.