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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

DeSantis goes 0-for-2 on election night

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is expected to announce a presidential campaign soon.

By Nicholas Nehamas and Shane Goldmacher

On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida went out on a limb. On Tuesday, it snapped.

A day after he swooped into the Republican primary for Kentucky governor with a last-minute endorsement — a move that turned the race into an obvious proxy fight between himself and former President Donald Trump — DeSantis watched his chosen candidate lose in a landslide to the Trump-backed rival.

To make matters worse for DeSantis, a Republican he had endorsed conceded to a Democratic opponent in the mayor’s race in Jacksonville, the largest city in his state.

DeSantis’ preparations to enter the 2024 primary are intensifying. He has held a series of private dinners in Tallahassee with top donors, and on Tuesday he took a direct shot at Trump over his dodging whether he would sign a six-week abortion ban.

But on Monday, DeSantis made a last-minute endorsement and robocall for Kelly Craft, a former United Nations ambassador under Trump and a member of a Republican megadonor family.

The move confounded Kentucky Republicans and those working for her rivals: While Craft spent heavily on the race, polls had suggested she was headed for defeat to Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, an ally of Sen. Mitch McConnell who had garnered Trump’s endorsement in June 2022. Representatives for DeSantis declined to comment.

“Kelly shares the same vision we do in Florida,” DeSantis said in a recording that was sent to Republican voters on the eve of the primary.

It ended up being far from close. With nearly 90% of ballots counted, she was in a distant third, earning just 17% of the vote to Cameron’s 47%.

“Let me just say,” Cameron said in his victory speech, “the Trump culture of winning is alive and well in Kentucky!”

His choice of words was telling: As DeSantis nears the announcement of a presidential campaign, his stump speech has often called on the Republican Party to end its “culture of losing” during the Trump era. On Monday, the phrase was splashed across the front page of The Des Moines Register after the governor campaigned in Iowa over the weekend.

The Trump team cheered Cameron’s line. In fact, one of Trump’s top advisers, Chris LaCivita, had presaged it less than an hour before Cameron spoke. When the race was called, LaCivita wrote on Twitter, “so much for the #alwaysbackdown culture of winning.”

Never Back Down is the name of the main super political action committee backing DeSantis. One of that super PAC’s top strategists is Jeff Roe, whose consulting firm also worked for Craft.

The unsuccessful election-eve endorsement of Craft was similar to the last-minute backing that DeSantis gave to Harmeet Dhillon in the race to lead the Republican National Committee in January.

DeSantis called for “new blood” the day before that vote. The incumbent, Ronna McDaniel, won easily the next day.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’ night did not get better in Jacksonville, where Daniel Davis, the Republican endorsed by the governor, lost to Donna Deegan, a Democrat, for an open seat. DeSantis had provided little support to Davis beyond his endorsement, not visiting the city to campaign. Early results showed Deegan leading Davis with roughly 52% of the vote.

Jacksonville has had Republican mayors for most of the last 30 years.

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