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How 2024 is playing into Florida voters' pick for governor

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

As we just heard, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is widely believed to be considering a run for president in 2024, but he's also favored to win reelection as governor on Tuesday. And so a big question on many voters' minds is whether DeSantis will stick around to finish another four-year term. Here's Valerie Crowder of member station WFSU in Tallahassee.

VALERIE CROWDER, BYLINE: Governor DeSantis hasn't said he's running for president, but he's given stump speeches for GOP candidates in key battleground states. He's raised about $200 million for his reelection campaign, with more than 90 million still in the bank. And pro-DeSantis mailers have even gone out to addresses outside Florida. At a recent debate, DeSantis' challenger, Charlie Crist, grilled him on his political ambitions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLIE CRIST: Will you serve a full four-year term if you're reelected governor of Florida? It's not a tough question. It's a fair question. He won't tell you.

CROWDER: In response, DeSantis didn't confirm or deny plans for a White House bid and hit back at Crist for bringing up the issue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: Well, listen, I know that Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make things very, very clear. The only worn-out, old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.

CROWDER: For some Democratic voters, DeSantis possibly running for president in two years is a strike against him in this year's race for governor. At an early voting site in Tallahassee, 32-year-old Brandon Moton cast his ballot for Crist. He says he's unhappy with DeSantis' first term, especially the way the governor has handled abortion, voting rights and the economy.

BRANDON MOTON: I think his focus is on a presidential run as opposed to what our state needs right now.

CROWDER: Some Republican voters, on the other hand, aren't turned off by the idea of the governor resigning midway through his term if reelected, but they aren't thrilled about it either. Jill Thorne voted for him. She's 68 and a Republican.

JILL THORNE: I'd prefer he stay in Florida, but, yeah, I'll probably support him if he runs for president.

CROWDER: And GOP voter Giles Levy, who's 55, says he thinks it would be great if DeSantis runs for president, even if it would mean a shorter term as governor if he wins.

GILES LEVY: That would be too bad, but I'd be OK with it.

CROWDER: It's not a question of if voters are thinking about DeSantis potentially running for president, it's whether that could cost him votes in this election, says Florida-based political analyst Susan MacManus.

SUSAN MACMANUS: It could be a reinforcement to people who are thinking about voting against him, but that's just the last straw. So maybe for some people who are what we call leaners but undecided as to whether they're going to go vote, it might have some impact.

CROWDER: MacManus says the issue might matter more if the governor's race were closer this time around. It was close in 2018. DeSantis won by less than half a percentage point. But in the last four years, Republicans have surpassed Democrats by nearly 300,000 registered voters in Florida. And MacManus says, a Democratic victory is even less likely this time around.

MACMANUS: It's a real, real long shot. There's not been a poll taken in Florida - with one exception, and that was an outlier - that shows that Crist is leading DeSantis.

CROWDER: MacManus says if DeSantis is reelected governor, then he'll likely take a more measured approach to appeal to voters nationally. A sitting governor in Florida has never run for president, and that's uncharted legal territory. One thing is clear - Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez would be next in line to take over the office, even though voters know little about her.

For NPR News, I'm Valerie Crowder in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Valerie Crowder
Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.