Is Florida’s DeSantis Campaigning by Not Campaigning?

By Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger mostly covers issues around Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for The Epoch Times. He also closely followed the 2022 midterm elections. He is a veteran of print newspapers in Florida and upstate New York and now lives in the Atlanta area.
February 8, 2023Updated: February 15, 2023

News Analysis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t make news at his press conference at an Ocala appliance store on Feb. 8.

The Republican spoke about tax breaks in his proposed state budget now before the legislature. He’s mentioned all of these publicly before, some two or three times: sales-tax exemptions on a wide variety of baby and child-related items, about gas stoves, a toll rebate for commuters, and more.

So why did he have a news conference?

DeSantis, having a bully pulpit as governor of the nation’s third-largest state, is using it.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launches a signed cap with his reelection campaign logo into the crowd as he arrives on stage to speak at the Student Action Summit in Tampa, Fla., on July 22, 2022. (Natasha Holt/The Epoch Times)

He makes news nearly every day. He’s held such press conferences all around the state, from Milton in the Florida Panhandle to Miami in South Florida and Fort Myers in Southwest Florida, from Jacksonville to Tampa to Daytona Beach Shores to Ocala.

In every one, he highlights his administration’s past accomplishments and new undertakings in the lead-in to Florida’s legislative session starting on March 7.

Again and again, he stands at the podium pointing out Florida’s strong economy and population growth.

Translation: People want to move to Florida, while other states are losing population, notably blue ones which are run much differently.

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People visit Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis reopens the state’s beaches at 7 a.m. on May 4, 2020. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Again and again, he talks about his administration’s strong fiscal management.

The low debt and significant surpluses, enough that the state can use some to lower debt even more and still kick money back to taxpayers in various kinds of tax breaks, all while raising salaries for teachers, state workers, and law enforcement officers.

Contrasting Approaches to Policy

DeSantis contrasts all that with the national picture and the policies of President Joe Biden.

Is the national economy weak? Florida’s is strong.

Defund the police? Reward the police.

Are teachers beholden to Democratic-aligned teachers’ unions? This Republican governor and Legislature have significantly raised their pay.

Is DeSantis running for president? He never breathes a word about a possible presidential run in 2024, other than to dismiss it.  But he doesn’t have to. Everyone else in politics talks about a future announcement as a foregone conclusion.

Meanwhile nearly every day, DeSantis contrasts his management of Florida with Biden’s management of the nation. If he announced a bid for president, his campaign speeches might not sound much different.

DeSantis’s Ocala speech at the appliance store came the morning after Biden’s State of the Union address. It might be seen as the governor’s rebuttal to it.

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President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) listen in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/Getty Images)

What else is DeSantis doing?

In Ocala on Feb. 8, DeSantis shared the podium with the state’s House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo. Both preside over chambers with Republican supermajorities.

That means most of DeSantis’s proposals—including in-your-face proposals such as ending Disney’s self-governing status, prohibiting vaccine-status discrimination, and making school choice scholarships available to nearly everyone—likely will become law.

DeSantis is letting his party allies, the leaders of another branch of state government, share the glory and attention.

In the News Almost Daily

He’s made news with major proposals nearly every day since the New Year. It began ramping up right after his November 2022 reelection.

Most days’ conferences highlighted a specific part of the upcoming budget. Now, he needs the lawmakers’ cooperation and leadership to get those proposals passed.

Sharing the spotlight with them doesn’t hurt him, at all. And it could immunize him some from criticisms or resentments that the moves are all part of The Ron DeSantis Show.

What else does he do? He’s campaigning while not campaigning around the state.

He noted in Milton last week that he’d made it in his first term to all 67 Florida’s counties—not an easy thing to do, he told the audience there.

He’s term-limited as governor, so why all the campaign-speak?

Perhaps for that national position he hasn’t announced he’s running for yet?

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Supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, try to record his entrance at Florida Gateway College on Nov. 3, 2022. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)

It’s good politics, of course, to give local officials face time with the governor so they can feel he’s paid attention to their needs and bolstered their standing in their communities.

DeSantis, at every conference, name-checks local officials—this representative or Congressman, that agency head—showing deference to those who are present. Smiling, they accept the accompanying applause.

Every conference features a couple of everyday folks who praise DeSantis’s initiative du jour—how it will help them or how his related move in his first term has already helped them.

In Ocala, a woman spoke of her varying family circumstances through life and how much DeSantis’s proposed family-friendly tax exemptions will help folks she knows who are struggling now.

And a man praised the benefit, not only for his large and growing family—he and his wife have five children, and she’s expecting a sixth—but for families he helps through work with a Catholic outreach charity in the mid-state community.

Help for Floridians

DeSantis estimates these tax breaks can save more than $1,000 a year for a family with children.

And they’re all tax breaks for residents. (Translation: voters.)

They won’t benefit tourists, the state’s leading industry, that much, DeSantis somewhat gleefully noted.

Floridians who pay tolls automatically through the SunPass system will see rebates to their accounts.

Tax exemptions for children’s clothes and baby strollers won’t benefit out-of-staters much.

Sales-tax exemptions for summer events are aimed primarily at residents, because, as all Floridians know, most tourists don’t visit in the summer. It’s too hot.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his wife Casey DeSantis, and their children walk on stage to celebrate victory during an election night watch party at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

DeSantis’s speech sites are often picked with optics in mind.

Staging the Ocala speech at an appliance store was a visual exclamation point for his proposal to permanently exempt gas stoves from sales tax.

That’s an in-your-face measure to Biden and the “woke” progressive forces of the Democratic Party DeSantis loves to battle.

That camp recently put out, then had to walk back, a proposal to ban gas stoves to combat “climate change.”

A Biden appointee to the Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed it, and the Energy Department proposed a ban, as well.

DeSantis isn’t having that in the Sunshine State.

It’s like he’s suggesting: ‘Gas stoves? Why, they’re sold right here in this Ocala appliance store! And we’re going to protect their right to sell them and your right to use them!’

For good measure, boxes of diapers (a necessity he hopes to make tax-free) were stacked behind the podium, within the TV camera’s view.

So Ron DeSantis isn’t campaigning for president. Yet. But his daily events amount to the same thing.

He also is campaigning, of course, for the passage of his budget and to rally forces behind his conservative actions to remake the state.

It’s not all about the White House. But his daily moves don’t hurt any, particularly if voters from other states are watching and like what they see.