AP Politics

Florida Gov. DeSantis picks up backing from 15 South Carolina lawmakers as he makes a campaign swing

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out endorsements from 15 South Carolina lawmakers on Thursday, hoping their support for his Republican presidential campaign will help him make his case to voters in the first-in-the-South primary state.

The endorsements, shared first on Thursday with The Associated Press ahead of DeSantis’ town hall in North Augusta, come from 11 state House members and four state senators from across the state, with a heavy concentration in South Carolina’s conservative Upstate. It’s a show of force for DeSantis in a state that current Republican front-runner Donald Trump won handily in the 2016 primary and where he has maintained popularity.

Earlier this month, state GOP leaders set Feb. 24 as the date of South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, which still needs approval from national party leaders.

DeSantis’ list includes Sen. Josh Kimbrell, a Spartanburg Republican who has been bullish on the governor’s candidacy since before he officially entered the race. On Thursday, he called DeSantis “the only candidate in this race who can defeat” President Joe Biden.

Many of the new endorsements are from lawmakers who have introduced DeSantis during appearances in the early voting state. One of them, North Charleston Rep. Chris Murphy, praised DeSantis, a former Navy judge advocate general, this month at a Bluffton campaign event as “the only candidate that has worn our nation’s uniform.” There’s also Rep. Micah Caskey, a Marine veteran who hails from Lexington County, another strongly conservative area.

It’s hard to quantify how much local lawmaker endorsements sway voters’ perceptions of presidential candidates, although many in the crowded primary field are intently courting them. Last week, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina heralded endorsements from more than 140 current and former elected officials in his home state, including more than two dozen state lawmakers.

At Trump’s South Carolina kickoff event in January, he announced his leadership team in the state, including longtime backer Gov. Henry McMaster, Sen. Lindsey Graham and several other members of Congress. Trump is returning to South Carolina on July 1 for his first campaign rally since his indictment on federal charges of mishandling classified documents and will be back in August for a South Carolina GOP fundraiser.

Rob Godfrey, a longtime adviser to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, one of the other presidential candidates, said endorsements from elected officials have “short-term” value in terms of associated media coverage. He said they aren’t a substitute for spending quality time with voters in early states like South Carolina.

“You can reasonably assume the recipient is seen by colleagues as having a collaborative approach to policymaking,” Godfrey said. “But the days of direct political capital transfers — from elected officials to candidates — seem to have passed, and the number of early primary state voters you meet face to face and ask for votes matters the most.”

According to his campaign, DeSantis also has backing from more than three-dozen state lawmakers in Iowa and 50 in New Hampshire, as well as dozens more in Michigan, Oklahoma and his home state of Florida.

Linda Lewis, a retiree who went to check out DeSantis’ appearance in Bluffton this month, said that she had previously supported Trump but was curious to hear more from the Florida governor.

“I still have a lot of appreciation for some of the things that he did,” Lewis said of Trump. “I think that some of his rhetoric is over the top … and I think we need somebody else in there, probably, in order to win the national election.”

After speaking for about half an hour Thursday, DeSantis took a number of questions from the audience gathered in North Augusta on topics including the expansion of civics education in schools and his support for law enforcement.

He told a questioner who said he represents “broken veterans” that he didn’t think a DeSantis administration would support decriminalizing marijuana, despite its use as a therapeutic.

Asked “how we can make sure that (Vladimir) Putin takes a short jump out a tall window,” DeSantis twice called the Russian president “a bad guy” and said he felt “NATO needs to do more” in terms of securing European countries.

“They should really be taking the lead and ensuring the security of the continent,” he said.

In both questions he got about Russia’s war in Ukraine, DeSantis also pivoted to what he sees as threats posed by China, positing a NATO-like system in the Pacific “to be able to keep China in check, because I think, in many respects, they’re more of a threat to us.”


Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.


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