Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went to work in a key early primary state on June 2 as he began introducing himself to the voters of South Carolina.
The state poses a particular challenge: it is home to not one but two of DeSantis’s declared challengers for the Republican nomination, a popular former governor in Nikki Haley and a popular current senator in Tim Scott.
DeSantis didn’t shy from the challenge. He held his first event in Beaufort, which Scott represented in Congress, and his second one outside Lexington, the legislative district where Haley got her start.
Speaking in the same venue where she spoke two months ago, DeSantis drew a slightly larger crowd. Haley spoke to about 400 people at The Grove on Augusta, an event venue on U.S. 1 in Gilbert, on April 6. A DeSantis campaign staffer said his crowd exceeded 500. Haley’s crowd filled the un-air-conditioned structure, but DeSantis’s packed it.
His crowd was appreciative. Not all of them were committed. They were more in the candidate shopping mode.
“We’re political junkies,” said Rob Visconti, who drove with his wife Michelle 2 1/2 hours from Myrtle Beach to hear DeSantis. “We’d like to see everybody running. We went down and saw Tim Scott about two weeks ago when he did his announcement in Charleston. And we wanted to see DeSantis. This is the first time we get the chance to see him.”
Speaking before the event, Visconti, vice-chairman of the Horry County Republican Party, said he was impressed by DeSantis so far. “If he were our candidate, I think he’d be very good and he’s very stern. He’s old school. I like how he’s strong. He’s not wishy-washy.”
The Viscontis said they also regarded Scott and Haley as good candidates. “I think the Republican Party all together has a lot of strong candidates,” Rob Visconti said. “We’ve got a better bench than the Democrats.”
Republican event volunteers Kim Demer and Deb Dollarhide, both from Columbia, said they enjoyed the opportunity to check out all the candidates and were favorably impressed by DeSantis.
“He’s very level-headed. He doesn’t get rattled or criticize others,” said Dollarhide, president of the Capital City Republican Women. “But he will defend himself.” The DeSantises had been hosted at an event by the Republican chairman of Dorchester County in the Charleston metro area, she said, and the guests found them “gracious people. They were well received.”
DeSantis spent nearly 90 minutes in the hall, giving his stump speech—one familiar from his many appearances around Florida, but updated now for national audiences and a presidential run. He spoke for almost 40 minutes before introducing his wife, Casey DeSantis. The two sat talk-show style—Casey is a former Jacksonville-area TV news anchor—and talked, among other things, of the challenges of raising small children in the Florida Governor’s Mansion.
Casey noted she was hoarse, not because she and her husband had just campaigned in three states in four days.
It was “because I spent the day before telling a 3-year-old for probably three hours as to why you should not use permanent markers to color on the dining room table,” she said.
She noted that the 3-year-old in question, Mamie, was the first child born to a sitting governor in over 50 years.
“She is currently terrorizing the house as we speak.”
Casey said she had figured out how to get the magic marker, crayons, and slime out of the governor’s mansion’s elegant and sometimes historic furnishings.
“When we first went into the Governor’s Residence, we had a 2-year-old and a 9-month-old,” the governor said. “I was just, like, are they going to make us leave a security deposit here?”
Ron DeSantis noted the beautiful Persian carpet they found when they arrived in 2018 was quietly rolled up by the household staff a month later. “Because they knew it would be basically leaving it out for destruction.”
There was the humorous recounting of their 3 a.m. return from a four-country foreign trip, followed by a day of dance lessons, T-ball games, and birthday parties that started at 8 a.m. The next night, their jet-lagged 5-year-old, Mason, was awake and hungry at midnight. The governor of the third-largest state found himself in the drive-thru lane of a Tallahassee chicken fingers restaurant.
“When you’re going through it that night, that time of night in a college town, it was, like, college kids who had been drinking and me.”
It was all quite charming—particularly for a candidate accused by detractors of lacking personality and avoiding human contact. None of that was in evidence in Gilbert, as DeSantis spent nearly 20 minutes working the room, chatting people up, signing autographs, posing for pictures with wellwishers, and visibly enjoying it.
Putting the family side out there seems a shrewd strategy for him. It highlights that they have children; DeSantis’s many initiatives regarding children and families are personal to them. That they are small children emphasizes his youth—in contrast to the 80-year-old President Joe Biden and the 77-year-old Trump.
And it allows him to work side by side with his wife, a heavy-hitter not only in the charm department but in substance, staking out her turf as first lady in various policy issues.
One initiative has worked to put recipients of state grants, such as single mothers, in touch with nonprofit, faith-based, and private-sector agencies that can help them beyond just money.
“One thing I learned very quickly was that there were a lot of great people on the ground, exterior of government, who were doing great things, but they were all siloed,” she said. “You had the faith-based community doing wonderful things, but they were over here. You have the private sector here, the nonprofits here, the state government over there. There was oftentimes very little communication and collaboration on the best interests of people in need.”
They worked with the Department of Children and Families to create a program of “hope navigators” who work with grant recipients and find them help outside the government.
Ron DeSantis, during his speech, was interrupted with applause numerous times as he detailed his accomplishments and battles as governor, from banning the sale of land to the Chinese Communist Party to rapidly reopening bridges in Hurricane Ian to establishing sales tax exemptions for child- and baby-related items to deporting illegal immigrants to the chic sanctuary city of Martha’s Vineyard—as well as a ban on central bank digital currency, and eliminating DEI indoctrination at public universities and CRT from public schools.
Plus, his battle with Disney over its opposition to his Parental Rights in Education bill. And his signature reopening of the state quickly after the COVID-19 lockdown. And his stopping of vaccine and mask mandates.
All that takes place in a state with top-ranked public schools, low crime, and no income tax, he said. Its residents voted their approval by reelecting him by a landslide 59 to 41 margin in November after he’d squeaked into office by just 32,000 votes four years earlier.
If elected, he pledged to bring energy and a can-do attitude to the White House.
“I’m going to be a very energetic executive. We’re going to go on offense. We’re going to start from day one.”
Top on his list, in that case, will be firing the FBI director and ending the military’s catastrophic experiment with woke ideology, one he said had destroyed morale and hampered recruiting.
He pledged to bring “fiscal sanity” to Washington, “unleash” energy production, and support small businesses over big corporations.
And he said: “Our pledge is that our administration will be the administration that finally brings the border issue to a conclusion. We’re going to shut the border.”
And he paraphrased Winston Churchill, promising to continue at the federal level the fight he’d begun in Florida: “I believe that woke ideology represents a war on truth itself. And so as president we will wage a war on woke. We will fight the woke in the schools. We will fight the woke in the corporations. We will fight the woke in the halls of Congress. We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. We are going to leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history where it belongs.”
“I thought he was fantastic. Off the charts,” said Frances Bouton of Blythewood, outside Columbia. “He’s our next president and he’s somebody who’s really going to save America. I’m behind him 100 percent.”
Bouton, who said she was considering volunteering for DeSantis, said she “was a big MAGA Trump supporter in 2016 and 2020.” She no longer is, she said, “for two big reasons.” One was the COVID-19 vaccine, which she believed had killed or disabled many people, and the other was transgenderism.
She said DeSantis has a far better record fighting it, as it has put “our children under intense attack.”
Event staffers said about 100 Trump supporters had positioned themselves before the event started across the street with signs and flags.
And one woman disrupted DeSantis’s speech briefly. Her remarks were difficult to hear, but an event staffer told The Epoch Times he heard her shouting “fascist,” and a television reporter told The Epoch Times she heard “fascist book burner.”
“Those are the people,” DeSantis said as the woman left the hall, making a rude gesture repeatedly to him and the crowd, “that we beat every single day in Florida.”