DeSantis and Trump's turf war over Florida reaches new heights ahead of 3rd GOP debate

Both have deep ties to Florida.

November 4, 2023, 8:28 AM

Some observers view this week as a potential turf war between former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have deep ties to Florida, heightening the pressure to show who has the most substantial grip on the state and possibly the best chance of winning it in the primary.

This coming week in Florida will test the dominance of Trump and DeSantis as their rivalry plays out against the backdrop of several significant events in the state, including the Florida Freedom Summit, the third GOP primary debate and Trump's rally outside of Miami.

Allies of both Trump and DeSantis see the upcoming schedule in Florida as a chance to highlight the support the two have in the state and their records. Florida's speaker of the House, Paul Renner, who endorsed DeSantis for president, told ABC News in an interview that although he believed Trump did great work during his four years in office, he thinks the 2024 election is about looking towards the future and new leadership.

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump attend a campaign rally at the Pensacola International Airport, Nov. 3, 2018, in Pensacola, Fla.
Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

"I think elections are about the future, not the past," Renner said. "And I would be the first one to say that I think President Trump had a great four years, but this is about the next four years."

Renner praised DeSantis for being able to deliver legislative promises and called attention to Florida's red wave in 2022, crediting the governor's leadership for helping Republicans win races across the state, in addition to DeSantis winning reelection by nearly 20 percentage points. DeSantis' victories drew a stark contrast with the broader performance of the Republican Party, which did not fare as well as expected in races across the country, losing critical battleground Senate races in several states, including Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania and winning the majority in the House by just a slim margin.

Many Republicans claimed Trump's substantial involvement in the 2022 midterms, where he not only endorsed candidates but held rallies with them, cost the GOP several critical congressional and gubernatorial races.

"I think [DeSantis] can bring a lot of success for Republicans and win over a lot of support that we don't currently have right now, and I think that's another thing that needs to be said when we talk about the 2024 race," Renner said.

Electability has become a central selling point of DeSantis' presidential campaign, with the governor pitching himself as the candidate who can win a general election against President Joe Biden. He often mentions how Republicans lost the House in 2018, both chambers in Congress in 2020 and did not win back the Senate in 2022 with Trump at the party's helm.

Still, despite the gains Republicans have made in the state since DeSantis became governor and the losses the party has suffered under Trump, it might not be enough to help the governor win against the former president, who still continues to have large support in Florida and remains the frontrunner in the GOP primary. Trump continues to dominate in national polling, averaging 59.2%, while DeSantis trails behind at 12.6%, according to FiveThirtyEight's national polling average. And while DeSantis has seen a decline in both national and state polling, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has seen an uptick, gaining speed and in some polls overtaking the Florida governor.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the New Hampshire Republican Party's First in the Nation Leadership Summit in Nashua, New Hampshire, Oct. 13, 2023.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

And Trump's standing in the polls is accompanied by a groundswell of support from elected leaders -- many of whom have bucked their own governor to back the former president. On Thursday, Florida Sen. Rick Scott announced in an op-ed his endorsement of Trump, writing he "encourages every Republican to unite behind his efforts to win back the White House."

The Florida senator endorsing Trump should come as no surprise, as Scott and DeSantis have had friction in the past. But other members of the Florida congressional delegation, including Reps. Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna and Greg Steube, have also endorsed Trump, even traveling with him to major political events in the past few months, such as the Iowa State Fair, as a way to troll DeSantis and show unity behind the former president.

The DeSantis campaign is pushing back against the narrative that the governor does not have support from elected officials in Florida, referencing the endorsements DeSantis has received from other elected officials in the state.

"The governor will win his home state because Floridians want to see a fighter who will bring the same type of results-oriented leadership to Washington that he has provided in the Sunshine State," Andrew Romeo, communication director for the DeSantis campaign, told ABC News in a statement.

Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally, Nov. 2, 2023, in Houston.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

But there are many ardent supporters of the former president who say he's the one who holds the most power in Florida politics.

"Trump is already the king of Florida because he's the one who got DeSantis in office," Bill White, a bundler for the Trump campaign, told ABC News. White says Trump's endorsement of DeSantis contributed to his slim victory in Florida's governor race against former Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Trump's sway will be tested on Wednesday, when he'll be hosting a rally in Hialeah, Florida, outside of Miami, instead of taking part in the third GOP primary.

The day after his rally, Trump will also host a party at his home in Mar-a-Lago for the state's GOP leaders.

In a statement to ABC News, Steven Cheung, the spokesman for the Trump campaign, touted Trump's lead over DeSantis in national and state polling when asked about how the campaign views this upcoming week in Florida.

"President Trump has built an unmatched political organization and has out-worked every candidate in the race," Cheung said.

ABC News' Lalee Ibsaa and Soorin Kim contributed to this report.