By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis filed paperwork Friday to formally enter Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race, after landing praise from President Donald Trump and rounding up a list of wealthy financial backers.
DeSantis, a Palm Coast Republican, opened accounts that will allow him to raise money for a primary contest that already includes state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and is expected to be joined by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“As somebody who is a military officer, an Iraq veteran, a proven conservative, and then with the support of the president, I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Gov. Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education and to drain the swamp in Tallahassee, which needs to be drained just like Washington,” DeSantis said during an appearance Friday on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends.”
An official campaign kick-off will occur later this month, a release from his campaign said.
DeSantis is among a handful of Republican lawmakers who have openly pushed to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia. Last month, DeSantis accompanied Trump to Pensacola for a campaign rally supporting Republican Roy Moore’s failed bid for the U.S. Senate in Alabama.
DeSantis, who has served in Congress since 2013, is a former Navy lawyer who received a history degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. His resume includes being a member of the 1991 team from Dunedin that reached the Little League World Series.
Two years ago, he set his sights on the U.S. Senate, but returned to his House seat when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio reversed course and decided to seek another term after bowing out of a bid for president.
On Dec. 22, Trump tweeted that “Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”
The tweet followed an appearance by DeSantis on Fox News, which aired on Air Force One while Trump was flying to West Palm Beach.
Last week, DeSantis rolled out a pair of financial teams — state and national — that included Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham issued a statement Friday that quickly made clear DeSantis’ ties to Trump will be an issue during the campaign.
“Ron DeSantis running as Trump’s hand-picked candidate with the backing of out-of-state billionaires may endear him to the most partisan primary voters, but he is too extreme for Florida,” Graham, a former congresswoman, said. “While DeSantis has dedicated his time in Congress to protecting Trump from Mueller and becoming a Fox News star, we look forward to a vigorous debate on the real issues that affect Florida families most. Ron DeSantis’s support for privatizing public schools, his denial of climate change and his votes to cut Medicare are just out of touch with Florida.”
DeSantis’ financial team will be important, as Putman began December with more than $2.5 million in his campaign account. Putnam also added just over $1.1 million in December to his political committee Florida Grown, which started December with more than $12.8 million on hand.
Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC had nearly $4.69 million on hand when December began.
Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala continued to have a campaign account open Friday, his final day as a member of the Florida Senate. Latvala announced his resignation from the Senate last month after investigations about alleged sexual harassment.
DeSantis enters the contest with nearly $1.7 million in his U.S. House account that can be transferred into the gubernatorial run, and a political committee, Fund for Florida’s Future, which has about $2 million on hand.