Hours before Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis took the stage in Las Vegas to tout that state’s success under his conservative leadership, hundreds of people lined up outside Stoney’s Rockin’ Country bar.
DeSantis visited Las Vegas as part of the Florida Plan tour, ostensibly to promote his new book, but unofficially seen as a precursor to a presidential bid.
The event is the latest in a round of DeSantis’ visits to early states on the 2024 Republican nominating calendar, and comes as a recent poll predicts he would even do better than Former President Donald Trump in Nevada if he decides to launch his candidacy.
“I said you have to go on the offensive. You can’t just sit back and play defense,” DeSantis said Saturday before some 1,000 attendees.
One of them was William Bilansky, 72. After voting for Trump in 2016 and 2020, Bilansky said he attended the event to learn more about DeSantis should he launch his bid for president and challenge Trump in 2024.
“I’m a Trump supporter. I think Donald Trump’s policies are outstanding and I think DeSantis’ policies are very similar to his,” Bilansky told The Nevada Independent before the event. “I’d really like to hear more of his worldview. But at this point, knowing what I know now, I would pick Trump.”
The tour is being organized by “And to The Republic,” a nonprofit group with the sole purpose of helping DeSantis be seen by a national audience, according to the news portal Politico.
During his speech, DeSantis listed his priorities, which range from school choice and parental rights, to immigration and border security (including the construction of the southern border wall) and the fentanyl epidemic: “I believe the cartels should be treated as terrorist organizations and the traffickers should be treated as the murderers they are,” he said.
The Nevada State Democratic Party held a press conference before DeSantis’ event to “hold Republicans accountable.”
Democratic Assemblywoman and newly elected chairwoman of that party locally, Daniele Monroe-Moreno, called DeSantis “too extreme for Nevada” and said that while he may try to “sell his Florida Plan to Nevadans,” voters have “rejected time and time again” the “extreme agenda of MAGA or Make America Great Again.”
Although DeSantis, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is widely considered the leading contender to challenge Former President Donald Trump in 2024, he has yet to publicly announce a presidential bid and is not expected to do so until after Florida’s legislative session ends in May.
During his administration, DeSantis has leaned into the culture wars, banning mandates for face masks in schools, signing laws preventing state or local governments from suspending in-person classes, and blocking businesses and government entities from requiring proof of COVID vaccination.
“I’m proud to say that in Florida we did it our way,” DeSantis said in his speech.
DeSantis has won the endorsement of many prominent conservative donors, including Nevada billionaire Robert Bigelow.
Aside from the participation of former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, and Nevada Comptroller Andy Matthews, the speech had few specific references to the silver state. One of those mentioned that Nevada has widespread mail-in voting, while Florida does not and prohibits the practice of “ballot harvesting,” in which non-family members deliver someone else’s ballot.
Judy Sorce-Bauman, 69, noted that she likes DeSantis because, at 44, he is younger and brings “fresh ideas,” especially since President Joe Biden, 80, has been criticized for his age and stutter.
DeSantis, who said Biden’s administration is faltering and lacks energy, hinted at a possible presidential bid and called on Americans to preserve “the sacred fire of freedom.”
“It’s a responsibility. It’s not something that scares me. I welcome it,” DeSantis said. “But I’m very confident that if we step up and do it, and never step back, we can change this country.”
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