TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Even as he eyes a midterm election environment history suggests could serve up strong headwinds for Republicans, GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis is tearing up the well-worn playbook of his predecessors and doubling down on his embrace of President Trump.
- Ron DeSantis embraces President Trump's support
- GOP strategists believe he needs to energize Republican base
- Trump more popular among Republican voters than Bush in 2006
DeSantis is scheduled to appear with the president at a Wednesday rally in Fort Myers, a clear break from 2006, when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress and then-Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist declined to join President George W. Bush at a Pensacola rally for Florida's GOP ticket.
Like Bush 12 years ago, polls indicate Trump's approval rating is underwater.
Crist's decision to skip the Bush rally was widely credited with helping him win the Governor's Mansion in an otherwise unforgiving year for Republicans.
With DeSantis trailing Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum in every public poll conducted so far in this year's race, most Republican strategists believe his only path to victory runs through energizing the GOP base.
Polls show Trump is much more popular among registered Republicans than Bush was in 2006, a fact DeSantis' wife, Casey, alluded to while campaigning Monday in Pasco County.
"He's the president of the United States, and we're honored to have him come out," she said. "Listen, they had over 100,000 RSVPs in Texas to come see the president of the United States speak, so we're honored to have him come down and campaign on behalf of Ron."
DeSantis also prides himself on being an unconventional candidate, pointing to the president's out-of-the-box 2016 campaign as an example of a winning grassroots political movement.
"I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness, I'm going to not let the media smear me like they like to do with so many other people," the former congressman declared in last Wednesday's gubernatorial debate.
But some Democratic organizers believe DeSantis’s pro-Trump gambit will prove fatal. With the president's most recent controversial comments — about last week's pipe bombings — fresh in voters' minds, they predict Floridians will draw a negative connection between Trump and DeSantis the would-be governor won't be able to shake.
"That was in such poor taste for anybody," said Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. "I mean, how low can he go? Need I ask that question? And DeSantis is joined at the hip with him — his voting record — I don't think this is going to be good for him."