Florida State Senator Joe Gruters is the possible next chair of the Republican National Committee

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Joe Gruters
State House majority leader Michael Grant, Republican Senator Joe Gruters, and Republican Representatives James Buchanan and Fiona McFarland in Sarasota. By WMNF News (Oct. 2023)

Backroom Briefing. Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida
By Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said he’s focused on getting elected this weekend as a Florida Republican national committee member.

But he acknowledged it is “spectacular” that he is being mentioned as a possible replacement for Ronna McDaniel as chair of the Republican National Committee.

“Ultimately, it’s the president’s (former President Donald Trump’s) decision, and no matter what he chooses, I’m totally for it because he’s building his team out,” Gruters said Wednesday. “And all I want to do is make sure we win in November.”

Walking by Gruters after a Senate floor session, Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, joked that lawmakers are calling Gruters “chairman.”

But Gruters, a former Republican Party of Florida chair who unsuccessfully ran for Republican National Committee treasurer last year, might not be the front-runner. The New York Times and others have reported North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley is most likely McDaniel’s replacement.

Gruters has long been a supporter of Trump, and Trump has returned the praise. Gruters also backed Trump in this year’s race for the Republican presidential nomination, while most Florida state lawmakers backed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ now-abandoned campaign.

Twice while chair of the Sarasota County GOP, Gruters gave the local organization’s “Statesman of the Year” award to Trump. Last spring, Gruters called DeSantis’ vetoes of projects in his district “mean-spirited.”

“The governor is clearly upset I endorsed Donald Trump for president, and so he took it out on the people of Sarasota County,” Gruters said in a statement.

In January, Trump backed Gruters for the national committeeman post.

“Joe is a ‘rockstar’ when it comes to Securing our Borders, Keeping our Communities Safe, and Promoting an America First Agenda,” Trump said in an online post. “Joe will make an incredible National Committeeman, and he has my complete and total endorsement.”

IS 2019 STILL RELEVANT?

Final 2023 Florida tourism numbers won’t be out for a couple of weeks. But Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young anticipates the state will best the 2022 total of 137.4 million visitors.

Now, the tourism-marketing agency is trying to determine if it should continue comparing quarterly figures to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when the state had a then-record 131.07 million visitors. Tourism temporarily plummeted in 2020 after COVID-19 hit the state.

“We’re trying to figure out if we want to stop talking about 2019,” Young said during a Visit Florida board meeting on Wednesday. “But I think that 2019 is relevant because it was the last, quote, normal year that we had. And so, it’s relevant for a bit longer; until we get fully recovered.”

Florida broke from the gate early after the initial pandemic shutdowns in 2020 as Americans headed to the Sunshine State. But numbers of people traveling to Florida from overseas have taken longer to rebound.

‘BACK IN THE SADDLE’

After dropping his presidential bid, DeSantis has been bouncing around the state making appearances.

“I haven’t taken a couple of weeks to digest and reflect. I got right back in the saddle here,” DeSantis said Monday while in Miami Beach. “We’ve been making things happen every single day. That’s just what we do.”

Calling himself the “most active governor in America,” DeSantis said he had no intention of going into some “woe is me” type of “hibernation.”

“We’re going to continue to be very energetic,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to continue to get a lot of things done.”

“It’s a difference between talking about things and actually doing things,” DeSantis concluded. “And I’m a doer, not a talker.”

But after watching DeSantis news conferences, House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said she’s seen little change in the governor’s approach to Florida after exiting the presidential contest.

“People are so desperate to have this governor focused on affordable housing and focus on bringing the cost of property insurance down, but he seems to not want to do it,” Driskell told reporters Monday.

“And what’s interesting is now that he’s come back from that failed presidential run, I’m watching his media events and it feels like he is just continuing like he’s a band that’s past its prime, that keeps playing his greatest hits that nobody wants to hear anymore,” Driskell added. “It’s like he’s Journey and all these culture-war bills, and his COVID Grand Jury, this is his ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ (song). And we’re tired of it.”

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK

“The Florida State Senate is still meeting right now, for a committee to prohibit the movement of Confederate Statutes (sic). Imagine if this same type of energy and time was spent on property insurance reform.” — State Rep. Anna Eskamani (@AnnaForFlorida) on Tuesday.

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