If there were any doubt about what Florida Republicans were focused on during their annual meeting this weekend, the giveaway was the book every registrant received upon checking in: “Trump’s Enemies.”
Hundreds of party activists were in Orlando Friday, picking local party leaders as well as the next chair of the Republican Party of Florida. For most participants, the meeting, which will continue Saturday, marked the start of efforts to get President Trump re-elected in the nation’s biggest swing state.
“This is the beginning of the 2020 election,” said outgoing party chairman Blaise Ingoglia. “It basically kicks off President Trump’s campaign here in the state of Florida. He may not kick it off officially, but for us, it starts the groundwork for the work going into the 2020 election.”
During last year’s election, Democrats picked up several seats in the Florida House and a state Senate seat, as well as two U.S. congressional seats. Republicans won races for Governor and U.S. Senator by razor-thin margins. Florida Republicans said they are well-positioned for the presidential race.
“You tinker and you change the message and you come out a little bit stronger,” said Evan Power, chair of the Republican Party of Leon County.
The front-runner for the state party chair job is Joe Gruters, a former co-chair of Trump’s Florida campaign who owns an accounting firm in Sarasota. Gruters, a state Senator and past chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, is closely aligned with Trump and newly inaugurated Gov. Ron DeSantis.
His only opponent is Bob Starr, a former Charlotte County commissioner.
Starr said he is running to give Republican activists a choice and because he thinks Gruters is wearing too many hats to give the proper attention to the job.
“This guy is the Energizer Bunny. What we need is a fulltime chairman,” Starr said. “We need a fulltime chairman who can raise the money and support the party.”