By Jim Turner and Ryan Dailey ©2022 The News Service of Florida
TAMPA — Gov. Ron DeSantis easily won a second term Tuesday and further cemented his conservative imprint on the state, amid growing speculation that he will run for the White House in two years.
With First Lady Casey DeSantis at his side, DeSantis appeared before a boisterous crowd at the Tampa Convention Center and said, “I have fought the good fight,” while touting Florida’s stance against federal directives.
“And so today, after four years, the people have delivered their verdict: Freedom is here to stay,” DeSantis said to a roar of cheers.
DeSantis. who ran for re-election with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, said “we reject woke ideology” and that “while our country flounders due to failed leadership in Washington, Florida is on the right track.”
“I believe that the survival of the American experiment requires a revival of true American principles. Florida has proved that it can be done,” DeSantis said. “We offer a ray of hope that better days still lie ahead.”
Democratic challenger Charlie Crist gave a roughly two-minute concession speech to a small crowd of supporters at the Carillon Park Hotel in his hometown of St. Petersburg.
“We were the underdog from the minute I entered this race 18 months ago. I knew we would be outspent. I knew we would not have as many television ads. But you know me. I am an optimist. I love Florida,” Crist, a former Republican governor who later was elected as a Democrat to Congress, said in a prepared statement. “Together, we stood up for our democracy and our freedoms, and we treated everyone with dignity and respect. I am very proud of that — and you should be too.”
Lisa Straehley, executive director of the Sawgrass Progressives political action committee, said Democrats need to “try something a little bit different” to motivate voters.
“I’m definitely disappointed. Obviously, we would have liked tonight to have gone better,” Straehley, who was at Crist’s election-night party, said. “But we knew months and months ago that this was going to be a tough year.”
Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz called Crist’s campaign “one of dignity and respect.”
“Charlie treats every Floridian like his neighbor and always fights for what’s right,” Diaz said in a statement.
With Republicans taking a voter-registration lead during the past year and DeSantis amassing an unprecedented amount of money, the election-night outcome left little suspense. As of 10:30 p.m., results posted on the state Division of Elections website showed DeSantis with about 59 percent of the vote.
When he was first elected governor in 2018, DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.4 percentage points.
The final days of the campaign focused more on the possibility that DeSantis will run against former President Donald Trump in 2024 for the Republican presidential nomination than about the governor’s race. Trump over the weekend gave the governor both re-election support and a derogatory nickname “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
The campaign was interrupted in late September by Hurricane Ian, which caused massive damage across the state. DeSantis was on television daily leading disaster-recovery efforts that included standing with President Joe Biden to accept federal storm assistance.
DeSantis and Crist held only a single debate on Oct. 24 in Fort Pierce.
DeSantis, who during the later stages of the election cycle traveled the country to raise money and stump for other Republicans, campaigned on maintaining the “free state of Florida.”
Republicans in the Legislature and on the state Cabinet have largely followed DeSantis’ lead on many policy issues. His hand was further strengthened Tuesday, as Republicans added to their overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate and won all three Cabinet seats.