Tallahassee Democrat | By Zac Anderson USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA | August 8, 2022
Gov. Ron DeSantis seems to think his reelection prospects are good enough that he can afford to spend his time and campaign money on other races.
Voters in at least two Florida counties — Sarasota and Lee — have received mailers promoting local school board candidates that were paid for by the governor’s political committee.
Meanwhile, DeSantis is planning to headline rallies this month in New Mexico, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio put on by Turning Point Action to support GOP candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump in those states.
That DeSantis feels comfortable forgoing time at home on the campaign trail to help out-of-state candidates and dishing out his campaign cash to influence other races, may be signs that he believes he’s in a good position heading into the final months of his reelection bid.
The governor’s generousness with his campaign cash shows how enormous his fundraising has been and how invested he is in reshaping Florida’s political landscape at all levels.
DeSantis has been especially focused on Florida’s education system and supporting school board candidates who back his conservative agenda. He has endorsed dozens of school board candidates and now is putting his own campaign money behind the effort.
Voters in Sarasota County recently received a mailer paid for by Friends of Ron DeSantis, the governor’s political committee, that touts conservative Sarasota School Board candidates Bridget Ziegler, Tim Enos and Robyn Marinelli.
The mailer features a picture of DeSantis with his wife and children. It notes that Ziegler, Enos and Marinelli are endorsed by DeSantis and says they will “Support the DeSantis education agenda to: Keep schools open, stop indoctrination, promote civics and workforce education, reject forced masking, protect parent’s rights.”
Similar mailers paid for by Friends of Ron DeSantis have been going out in Lee County in support of the governor’s school board picks, according to Florida Politics.
Friends of Ron DeSantis had $125 million in cash on hand as of July 29, a staggering sum.
“In terms of fundraising, he can do pretty much whatever he wants,” St. Leo University political science professor Frank Orlando wrote in an email. “The amount of money he has is massive.”
Orlando noted that DeSantis could spend well above what he did to win in 2018 and still have significant funds to “play with.”
“At some point, there’s so much saturation on the airwaves that there’s diminishing returns to each additional dollar spent, especially for an incumbent that most voters already know,” Orlando wrote. “Spending on schoolboard races is a cheap investment in their future support of his possible presidential campaign against President Trump, if it should come to that.”
‘It shows that DeSantis does not fear either Crist or Fried’
The governor’s enormous resources are allowing him to be more aggressive in his efforts to get more like-minded Republicans in office.
“It shows that DeSantis does not fear either Crist or Fried as opponents for the governorship,” said Nova Southeastern University history and political science professor Charles Zelden, referencing Democrats Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, who are vying in the primary to take on DeSantis in November.
“He’s confident that he’s going to win reelection,” he said. “This means that DeSantis can focus on burnishing his reputation nationally — which he does to the extent that Florida is following his lead politically. The more that he succeeded in shaping the politics of Florida, the more he can make the case that he can do the same thing nationally if elected president.”
DeSantis has endorsed in races up and down the ballot, weighing in on a number of legislative contests.
But he has taken a particular interest in school board races, which tracks with his intense focus on education issues.
“I believe he is very aware of how influential school board elections are on our children’s education and the future of education in Florida and that’s a priority of the governor’s, so it makes sense for him to highlight the candidates running for school board that align with his education agenda,” Ziegler said.
DeSantis signed controversial bills targeting how race, sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed in schools, pushed a civics program that generated concerns from teachers about a training aspect that some described as “Christian fundamentalist” and battled with school districts about COVID-19 mask requirements.