Pittsburgh (CNN)The applause for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from a ballroom full of Republican activists was loud and long — and it happened before the Florida governor even took the stage.
With more than 40 months before November 2024 and in the key swing state of Pennsylvania, the race for the Republican nomination for president is already underway. And while the 42-year-old governor said nothing concrete about his future plans beyond winning reelection next fall, DeSantis hinted at his ambitions with his final line of the night:
“I can tell you this: in the state of Florida, with me as governor, I have only begun to fight.”
Prior to his speech, as the 750 people began eating their salads at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, the mere mention of DeSantis’s name by the party chairman prompted cheers. And when a local pastor, in the midst of a lengthy prayer before the meal, said DeSantis would make a great president of the United States, the entire room let up a roar of approval.
DeSantis fired up the crowd during his half-hour address with a slew of applause lines on a number of topics currently animating Republicans and conservatives — from fighting against “Big Tech oligarchs” and the “corporate media” to opposing defunding the police and banning teaching critical race theory in schools.
He also used the platform to promote his tenure as governor. Citing vague concerns about elections in other states, DeSantis touted a new controversial law he signed in Florida implementing the “strongest election integrity measures anywhere in the country.” And he celebrated Florida as the leading state for opening up amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“All I can say to any state that has not followed suit: Open your state, open your schools, end these mask mandates, let people live and thrive,” DeSantis said. “When it came right down to it, we chose freedom over Fauci-ism.”
DeSantis criticized the Biden administration for what he referred to as its “weakness” in opposing threats from China. And in one of his few references of the night to the Republican former president, he credited Donald Trump for seeing the Chinese threat “better than anyone.”
For the most part, he kept his focus on the upcoming midterm elections, encouraging Pennsylvania to elect a Republican governor. And while DeSantis made only vague references to 2024, the event was an early indication of what the governor’s presidential campaign speech might sound like — if Trump himself stays out of the race.
A rising star
Since Trump left office, DeSantis is perhaps the most well-known elected official with Republicans. And as his a
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