On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence headlined a Jacksonville rally for Ron DeSantis.
In what clearly was the Republican attempt to counter the appearance of former veep Joe Biden for the Democrats earlier this week, Pence’s arrival was another signal of how nationalized the race between DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum is.
However, Duval Republicans seem to have been otherwise occupied, just a day after a brutal, high-profile debate between the candidates.
In terms of draw, attendance was not as strong as organizers might have hoped, with a couple hundred people on hand being a smaller draw than the Democratic “Winning Ticket” rally. Some Republicans on hand mentioned the security screening being so time-consuming, with Secret Service involved, that many who showed up could not get in.
Many who did get in were party activists and politicians.
Nonetheless, Pence, DeSantis, and Kellyanne Conway, political advisor to President Donald Trump, were all on hand to press the case.
“Florida has no greater champion and the Trump Administration has no greater friend than Ron DeSantis,” Pence thundered.
As is the case with the president when he speaks, Pence rhapsodized about the 2016 election results, adding more than a few hagiographic touches along the way.
DeSantis has been “prepared for his whole life” to lead Florida.
“Ron DeSantis embodies the best of Florida. His life has been defined by excellence and service to country,” the Vice President said, before reciting the high points of DeSantis’ biography, including military service, working as a prosecutor, and serving in Congress.
“There are some people who the day they arrive, they command the respect of their peers. In just six short years, Ron DeSantis has earned [that] respect,” Pence said, describing DeSantis as “one of the strongest advocates of the Trump agenda in the United States.”
The bulk of Pence’s remarks, by and large, could have been delivered anywhere that had an exclusively Republican crowd.
“Democrats don’t want to build the wall,” Pence mourned. “Ron’s opponent and others in the party actually talk about abolishing ICE.”
Pence vowed that ICE would never be abolished under Republican leadership.
“Here’s the choice,” Pence said. “DeSantis is a principled leader with a proven record … Gillum, you’ve got just one more voice for the Resistance. His policies look more like Bernie Sanders’ Vermont than the Sunshine State.”
Vermont has a GOP Governor.
“It’s a choice between resistance and results,” Pence said. “And Florida needs to choose Ron DeSantis to get more results.”
Conway, who managed Trump’s 2016 campaign, reminded those on hand that “elections have consequences,” a theme of the day.
“As I look across the political landscape this year, I can think of very few [campaigns] with as stark differences as” Florida’s, Conway said.
Conway then pivoted to a discussion of national economic conditions, including wages that are rising and businesses expanding.
“Ron DeSantis is a reliable vote to keep that economic boom going,” Conway said, perhaps unaware that the Governor doesn’t vote.
Conway contrasted DeSantis, “an Iraq veteran who backs the blue” with Gillum’s desire to “abolish ICE.”
“That anti-law enforcement rhetoric is very dangerous and very unfortunate. A vote for Ron DeSantis is a vote for law enforcement,” Conway said, before moving on to argue that “Medicare for all means less Medicare for you.”
Conway also said Gillum’s embrace of Bernie Sanders style “socialism” was “unfortunate.”
“The policies are wrong for Florida,” Conway said. “This is about freedom. This is about the future of Florida.”
DeSantis was greeted enthusiastically by those on hand, noting the “very clear choice” between himself and Gillum, using well-established talking points to make that case.
“Leadership is about levelling with the voters of Florida. The last few days have shown that Andrew Gillum can’t do that,” DeSantis said, before moving into a reiteration of his case about the Hamilton tickets.
“This issue of integrity. It’s not about black and white; it’s about right and wrong,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want to elect a corrupt mayor to be Governor of Florida.”
If Gillum is elected, investment will dry up, DeSantis said, noting the proposal to raise some corporate taxes from 5.5 to 7.75 percent.
“Higher taxes for you, more benefits for him,” DeSantis said. “He’s never met a tax he doesn’t like.”
DeSantis touched on President Trump also, reminding those on hand that the President called him a “tough, brilliant cookie” by way of endorsement.
Ahead of the headliner, local and regional Republicans alternated jeremiads against the cultural change Gillum threatens to bring and endorsements of the candidate.
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, who had backed Adam Putnam in the primary, lauded DeSantis as “a champion against the Terror … a true champion for law enforcement.”
“There’s a reason [police] came out and endorsed Ron DeSantis,” Rutherford said.
“Andrew Gillum has a history, a record and a message … that he will not stand up for police,” Rutherford said. “He will make you and your families less secure,” by opening the borders, abolishing ICE, and otherwise “following Nancy Pelosi’s playbook” by opposing President Donald Trump and associated “progress in Washington.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, running for his fourth and final term in North Central Florida, came into Congress with DeSantis, a “strong conservative.”
“Ron epitomizes God, country, and family … the American Dream,” Yoho said.
Yoho emphasized DeSantis’ work in the Benghazi hearings, staying away from specifics about what DeSantis might do as Governor.
Mike Waltz, running to replace DeSantis in Congress, said “the country is slipping away from us.”
“We are facing more threats internally than externally,” Waltz said, amidst remarks that were laudatory to veterans and first responders.
Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County noted, in his remarks, that he had been pressured to support Gillum based on the “hue of his skin.”
“Somebody said I’m a sellout. I am a sellout … to the Constitution … good values and morals,” Daniels said.
Daniels, emceeing the early part of the evening, offered repeated endorsements of DeSantis every time he took the mike.
And he kept jabbing Gillum, including making fun of the Democrat’s invocation of his grandmother.
“Everything that’s shiny ain’t gold,” Daniels said, repeating a line he has used before.