Endorsements Today Promise Political Spoils Tomorrow

Under The Hood

The endorsement fight between Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump took another turn last week. Most members in the Florida Legislature endorsed Gov. DeSantis for the 2024 presidential nomination. In total, 100 lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate cast lots with the Governor. That includes most of the Sarasota-Manatee legislative delegation.

I’m not sure a credible argument could be made the Republican nomination hinges upon who state lawmakers in Greater Sarasota support. On the other hand, these endorsements could hold major ramifications on regional elections in the future, most notably a congressional election that eventually will take place.

Only one local lawmaker has publicly backed Trump, namely state Sen. Joe Gruters. In fact, Gruters remains the only lawmaker in the Florida Legislature to go against the Governor in the 2024 race.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Boyd and Reps. James Buchanan, Mike Grant, Tommy Gregory, Fiona McFarland and Will Robinson all endorsed DeSantis. Only state Rep. Mike Beltran remains neutral.

When the moment comes that U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan retires, more a when than if question each passing day, four of five of these state pols will at least explore a run. A million unforeseeable factors will decide who wins. But make no mistake, politicos included this prospect in their calculus when deciding who to endorse this year.

Gruters feels good about his choice. But he also understands it comes with a risk. “The basic deal is if Donald Trump holds a bigger stick than DeSantis after this election cycle is over, I will get his support over anybody else in this race,” Gruters said. “If DeSantis holds a bigger stick, three people will be fighting for his support on the other side.”

Gruters, who also is considering a run for Chief Financial Officer, fully expects Trump to have the biggest stick of them all after 2024, confident the former president will win the GOP nomination and defeat President Joe Biden.

But that’s no guarantee. DeSantis could grow his political standing in the next year while Trump’s level of support, lofty as it is, may be frozen in place. 

McFarland brushed off any questions about a phantom congressional race. Indeed, many anticipate Vern Buchanan will seek at least one more term in Congress. James Buchanan didn’t respond to texts about his endorsement. One would expect he has better insight on when a congressional race may come as he’s Vern Buchanan’s son. But then, he endorsed DeSantis even as his father endorsed Trump.

Gregory, for his part, scoffs at the notion any calculation went into his own choice to back DeSantis. 

“For me personally, nobody had to ask me to do it,” he said. “I will tell you I’m not surprised the support was nearly unanimous from the people who work with him in state government. We have seen his intelligence and work ethic, and think he would be a great leader.”

Gregory, for his part, believes voters will largely respect the reasons politicians endorsed one candidate for president over the other, whether they support DeSantis or Trump. He’s heard from die-hard Trump supporters, but faced no outrage since announcing his endorsement. “I haven’t sensed any ill will,” he said.

Of course, if DeSantis becomes president, anyone who can prove a strong relationship with him should be able to leverage that to success in a congressional race. But there’s another possibility— and a very realistic one. Biden could win a second term against whoever wins the nomination.

DeSantis signed a bill this week amending Florida’s resign-to-law to guarantee he remains Governor if he loses the presidential race. That means he will have a job no matter what, but his political power would be significantly blunted after losing. Trump, meanwhile, would likely see the end of his days as a candidate if he loses in 2024. Either could maintain a political machine but it won’t be as potent.

The best chance local pols have of benefitting in the future from endorsements today is to do more than put their name on a list. They need to make sure their chosen candidate wins, then claim their share of the political spoils.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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