As DeSantis heads to the Lone Star State next week, the GOP presidential field will be expanding

By: - May 31, 2023 5:49 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis flew to Texas on July 17, 2021, to discuss border security, along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Credit: Screenshot, KXAN News.

As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his travels around the nation as a full-fledged presidential candidate, the GOP field likely will expand rapidly, with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence expected to announce their own candidacies.

DeSantis’ strategy includes a three-day trek to Texas — the second largest state in the country. From June 7 -9, DeSantis will be traversing a six-city tour of the Lone Star State that will include some of the most prolific donors in Texas Republican politics, The Texas Tribune reports.

“He’s hitting the big Republican stronghold areas,” says Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin. “He’s got to get money and Texas for the longest time has been what we call an ‘ATM’ for the Republican Party. Candidates come here, takes Texas’ money, knowing that in the general election it’s going to vote Republican, and knowing that in the primaries, the race is usually decided before we even get to the Texas primary.”

Texan Republicans may have some influence over the eventual nominee next year — their primary is slated to take place on March 5, 2024, along with 14 other states that day as part of “Super Tuesday.”  And with its 40 electoral votes, Texas is the second largest electoral prize in the presidential sweepstakes, trailing only California and its 54 electoral votes. It’s a solid red state, with Donald Trump defeating Joe Biden in the 2020 election by six points, 52%-46%.

What do the polls say?

Trump leads DeSantis in Texas, 57%-36%, according to a survey of 1,000 registered voters by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation that was published last week.  A poll conducted by the Texas Republican Party last November of 1,099 Republicans showed DeSantis leading Trump, 43%-32%.

In a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll taken in April, DeSantis trailed only Trump in terms of favorability with Texas Republicans, with Trump receiving 78% favorable opinion to DeSantis’ 73%. The next closest Republican after that was South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott at 46%.

Smith adds that the appeal of DeSantis to Texas Republicans is that Donald Trump is considered a flawed candidate to a portion of the GOP base.

“With Donald Trump, at any moment, the bottom could fall out, and if it does, who’s left holding the bag? Ron DeSantis wants to be that person, and he wants to take the fight to Donald Trump. The only way he’s going to be able to do that is he’s going to have to have a lot of money.”

What about Abbott?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Credit: Screenshot, KXAN News.

DeSantis has worked with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on immigration issues in recent years. The Florida governor announced earlier this month that he was sending hundreds of Florida National Guard soldiers as well as other resources to Texas to help “secure America’s border,” following a request by Abbott.

DeSantis also sent troops out to Texas in the summer of 2021 after Abbott and then-Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey requested similar assistance at the southern border.

Abbott had been considering a run for president himself in 2024.  Austin television station KXAN reported in April that a “top campaign adviser” to Abbott had said that the Texas governor was still “weighing the decision,” after a spokesman said that a federal campaign committee called ‘Greg Abbott Presidential Campaign” that appeared on the Federal Election Commission’s website was not filed by Abbott’s campaign.

“When we look at Gov. Abbott, he doesn’t seem to have the same will to take on Donald Trump for the presidency,” says Smith. “He’s not making the trips to Iowa. He’s not doing the book tour. He’s not doing the makeover – all the things that would lead you to believe that he’s running for president. I think he’s decided ‘I might sit this one out.’”

In representing the two biggest red states in the nation, Abbott and DeSantis have advocated for and signed some of the most politically conservative legislation in the country, leading many political observers to speculate about a rivalry of sorts. The New York Times reported last year that staffers to Abbott were critical of DeSantis decision last year (dubbed a “stunt” by critics) to round up migrants in San Antonio and send them to Martha’s Vineyard.

The relationship between the previous governors of Texas and Florida – Rick Perry and Rick Scott – was considered competitive but friendly as the two competed to bring in jobs to their states from around the country.

While DeSantis has been getting endorsements from state lawmakers in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, he hasn’t been that been successful yet in drawing endorsements from Republican members of Congress.

The first to officially back his candidacy for president was Chip Roy, a Texas Congressman who endorsed DeSantis in an email that he wrote to his constituents back in March.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.