Florida Republicans believe the Sunshine State will fall into President Trump’s column and help him secure a second term, but much of that confidence stems from significant efforts to boost voter registration for Republicans, as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) unwavering support of the president and his fundamental understanding of governance. Helen Aguirre Ferre, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), credited the governor for having the foresight to “prepare and pave the way” for what they hope is another Trump victory in Florida.
Early voting started in most Florida counties last week. Over the weekend, all 67 counties offered early voting, and all eyes have been on the numbers, as Democrats hold a sizeable voter advantage because of an increase in absentee voting.
While the state is not sending registered voters unsolicited ballots, voters can request an absentee ballot in lieu of voting in person because of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, nearly 1.8 million Democrats in the state had voted by mail to the GOP’s 1.2 million, giving Democrats an early advantage in voter turnout. However, the GOP has outpaced Democrats in early in-person voting, gradually closing in on the Democrats’ overall advantage.
On October 21, Democrats held a 486,797 ballot advantage (including mail-in votes and early voting). As of October 26, that number shrunk by more than 100,000, standing at 354,654.
Republicans, however, believe it is far too early for Democrats to celebrate–for two reasons: GOP voters are more likely to vote in person and could have a larger turnout on Election Day, and the GOP has narrowed the voter registration gap between Democrats and Republicans to about 134,000, the smallest gap in the state’s history.
The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), largely, credits that to a year-long effort led by the governor.
Early this year, the governor invested in and launched a voter registration program to help bridge the gap between the parties as DeSantis’s disgraced, failed gubernatorial challenger, Andrew Gillum, announced a voter registration effort to sign up one million voters to help defeat President Trump in Florida.
“We’re going to be a major player and deliver Florida to whoever the Democratic nominee is,” Gillum told the Daily Beast at the time. “I firmly believe that Florida is not a red state, it’s not a purple state. It’s an unorganized state.”
All the while, DeSantis started a significant voter registration drive. Nearly $1 million was invested to encourage residents to register to vote. On the final day to register to vote, users flooded to the online portal, causing it to crash. The turn of events prompted DeSantis’s administration to extend the deadline because of what Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee called “unprecedented volume and traffic” – more than one million requests per hour:
Today, I issued a directive to re-open Florida's voter registration deadline to participate in the Nov 3, General Election before 7 pm EST for applications submitted online and by 7 pm local time for in-person registration, today, October 6. More: https://t.co/7kK8aeEsas
— Laurel M. Lee (@FLSecofState) October 6, 2020
After the deadline passed, the news of the GOP’s strides broke. They had now narrowed the gap. Republicans now had 5,169,012 registered voters to the Democrats’ 5,303,254 — a slim 134,242 voter lead.
Most significantly, though, DeSantis provided material to the Trump Victory team and the RPOF so they could use the data to enhance their volunteer voter registration program, all working in partnership for the common goal. Their efforts were unmatched by Democrats in the battleground state.
DeSantis also focused on protecting the security and integrity of Florida’s elections, announcing that the state would join the Registration Information Center (ERIC).
“By joining ERIC, Florida will be able to crosscheck voter registration data with 29 other member states in order to identify duplicate registrations and outdated records from voters who have moved or passed away, leading to cleaner and more accurate voter registration rolls,” an August 2019 news release read.
“One of my administration’s top priorities is protecting the integrity of Florida’s elections, which is why joining ERIC is the right thing to do for our state as it will ensure our voter rolls are up-to-date and it will increase voter participation in our elections,” the governor said at the time.
“Since taking office, we have been reviewing this issue with Supervisors of Elections. We are confident that by improving the accuracy of our voter rolls, we will reduce the potential for voter fraud,” DeSantis added, announcing the initiative long before the Chinese coronavirus struck and Democrats rushed to make mass vote-by-mail a universal reality.
Months earlier, DeSantis signed executive orders suspending Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and accepting the resignation of Brenda Snipes, the former supervisor of elections for Broward County following a host of issues in the counties after the 2018 midterm elections.
But the governor’s efforts went far beyond voter registration and election integrity efforts, raising an excess of $10 million for the president and an excess of $3 million for House and Senate races in Florida in addition to assisting other Republican campaigns outside of Florida.
The governor appeared to put his focus into the broader agenda: Preserving American values, principles, and rule of law — three main themes of Trump’s campaign, which coincide with the president’s view of his own role as commander-in-chief. For months, DeSantis did not fundraise for himself, focusing primarily on the broader goal of Trump’s reelection and other GOP races.
Helen Aguirre Ferre, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), told Breitbart News that the governor understands that governance works from the bottom up and that it is essential to have effective people in office at all levels of government to work with and defend those common ideals.
“The fact that Gov. DeSantis has raised more funds than any other governor for President Trump–more than $10 million, raised more than $3 million for state House and Senate seats and helped more than 16 campaigns is stunning because he did it at the expense of his own fundraising efforts,” she told Breitbart News.
“That is a selfless leader who is giving it all for the benefit of Floridians, the Republican Party, and President Trump’s reelection,” she added.
The RPOF has been able to accomplish much through the governor’s efforts. It gave them the ability to provide all of the administrative resources to assist Trump Victory in Florida. The RPOF hired personnel to assist Trump Victory, including more than 190 field staffers to help increase boots on the ground presence.
But the widespread effort did not end there, either.
In November 2019, DeSantis announced the Governor’s Faith and Community-Based Initiative, acting as a collaboration “between state government and Florida’s faith-based institutions and community organizations, enhancing agencies’ existing work to support Florida citizens.”
“Florida’s faith and community-based groups have a longstanding history of intervening to help meet the needs of all Floridians,” DeSantis said at the time.
In their view, there is “no question” that right to life is on the ballot, Ferre said, adding that the governor’s emphasis on the initiative speaks to a fundamental understanding of faith-based groups, which do significant social work in their communities — from drug addiction programs to addressing issues of homelessness.
All of these efforts continued, even as DeSantis faced a wave of scrutiny from blue state governors and establishment media outlets regarding his handling of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. But DeSantis, throughout it all, refused to embrace the draconian steps welcomed by many of his gubernatorial counterparts – from instituting statewide mask mandates to shutting down churches — and, instead, stood in alignment with his principles and the president.
“I don’t know that [governments] would have the authority, quite frankly, to close a religious institution,” DeSantis said early in the pandemic. “The Constitution doesn’t get suspended here.”
Even at the height of the pandemic, DeSantis embraced a bottom-up approach, allowing localities to institute restrictions based on what they were seeing in their communities – another move that spoke to his seeming belief in the importance of electing local leaders who share the same values and goals.
DeSantis has continued to stand by his approach to the virus, reopening his state and vowing that it will not revert to a state of mass lockdowns again. The governor has since joined Trump on the campaign trail in Florida, speaking at his rallies — including in Jacksonville, the Villages, Pensacola — in the state Trump hopes to secure again in just over one week.
Ferre expressed confidence that the state will deliver its 29 electoral votes toward Trump’s reelection.
“Under Gov. DeSantis’s principled leadership, we are working hard every day to ensure a Republican victory in Florida,” the RPOF executive director told Breitbart News.
“Despite the many challenges 2020 presented, Gov. DeSantis had the foresight to prepare and pave the way for Florida to be able to deliver its 29 electoral college votes toward the reelection of President Trump,” she continued.
Ferre added that the partnership is a two-way street: not only does Trump need Florida, but Floridians also need Trump.
“While it is true that President Trump needs Florida, it is equally true that Florida and our nation need President Trump to preserve American values and ideals, the rule of law, economic growth, safety, and security,” she added.
Editor’s Note: At the time of publication, this article erroneously indicated that Florida Governor DeSantis shared data with the Republican National Committee; in fact, the data was shared with the Republican Party of Florida.