MIAMI – Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump have wounded their political destinies together in Florida, a state that amounts to a mandatory victory if the president hopes to serve another term in the White House.
But as the nation rushes into a contentious general election contest, Florida has become a national hot spot for the resurgent coronavirus pandemic. This even as the president is prepared to try to use the state as a show of strength for his Republican National Convention nomination acceptance speech now relocated in August, a plan that is already causing anxiety among some locals.
And COVID-19’s rapid rise in the Sunshine State has been made precarious by DeSantis’ position in Florida, raising the possibility that a reopening that some residents and experts say hastened could spell trouble for the president in November.
“If you look around the country, most governors, regardless of party, saw their numbers increase,” during the first part of the pandemic, said Jeff Garcia, a Miami-based Democratic political consultant. He noted a decrease for DeSantis from 58 percent to 51 percent in a survey analysis conducted in April by FiveThirtyEight:long before the recent increase in cases. Meanwhile, the governors of 14 other pandemic-affected states, such as Michigan, Washington and New York, had experienced double-digit positive gains.
“DeSantis is in a rare category,” added Garcia. “He doesn’t overwhelmingly dislike him, but he has seen a precipitous drop in his approval rating.”
Florida, on the other hand, is among the states showing the highest upward trend in new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in recent days, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that 5,508 new cases of COVID-19 set a new one-day record in the state; The state again topped 5,000 new cases on Thursday, according to the newspaper. And in an analysis last week, the PolicyLab of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia expressed concern that “Florida has all the characteristics of the next great epicenter.”
That’s the fear shared by Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Florida-based cardiologist and health policy expert. Despite Florida having a large Medicare-eligible population and many people vulnerable to COVID-19, Florida’s chief physician to the Medicare Protection Committee said the governor’s response to the pandemic has been more economically focused, “with public health as an afterthought. “
“I would definitely think that voters, especially those who fall into that vulnerable population, would obviously be concerned about the lack of leadership from the federal and state level regarding managing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ashby said, looking toward the future. to the general elections in November.
A DeSantis spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment on whether His handling of the coronavirus may harm President Donald Trump’s ability to win the state in the November general election. But on Thursday, DeSantis seemed to recognize the challenges the surge poses for Florida’s reopening in the future.
“We are where we are,” DeSantis told reporters when asked about the reopening of the state. “I did not say that we will move to the next phase.”
Before the pandemic, observers say DeSantis had made a profit with voters after his narrow victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum in 2018. But the pandemic appears to have put the governor in a more politically fluid position amid concerns over his administration’s response.
Rod Deal was not a fan of DeSantis when the Republican ran for governor in 2018. But even after voting for Gillum, the Miami-based 38-year-old photographer’s resistance waned and he became enthusiastic about DeSantis shortly after the Republican leader assume office.
“I thought I was also making progress on solar power and increasing teacher salaries,” Deal said. “I thought I was putting people’s needs first. From what I saw, I thought I would vote for him next time. “
Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and Treatment DeSantis positive impressions evaporated.
“It was only in the last three months that I started to wonder, ‘What the hell is wrong with this guy?’ Deal said. “Opening the entire state with COVID numbers going up was horrible.”
While most governors during the pandemic have seen a “rally around the flag” dynamic, a detailed poll by The Washington Post in May, he discovered that DeSantis had one of the lowest coronavirus approval ratings among the nation’s 50 governors. Still, it’s worth noting that the Florida governor scored 15 points better than the president.
J. Edwin Benton, professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said that if the increase in Florida is due to reckless DeSantis decisions, that will be poorly reflected, and not just the governor’s.
“If you have to own that and if people are looking at DeSantis as a role model for the state and it doesn’t look good, then it will mean that it will have a similar, if not equal, effect on Donald Trump’s chances of winning the state”. in November, “said Benton.
The governor was slow to issue a stay-at-home order as the virus swept across the country earlier this year, finally releasing on April 1. It is part of a broader approach that has invited rebuke from within the range of state government.
In MayRebekah Jones, a former staff member of the Florida Department of Health, alleged in the media that she was forced to leave her post after refusing to alter the state’s health data. in a recent media blitzshe have an aggressive questioned the authenticity of the of the state COVID-19 figures.
“I have several sources in DOH who have just told me that they have been instructed this week to change the numbers and to slowly begin eliminating deaths and cases, so it looks like Florida is improving the next week before April 4. July, as if they had. ” overshot the hump ” Jones tweeted earlier this week.
The situation has also led to a public challenge to DeSantis on Thursday by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. In a statement, the Democrat asked the governor to “issue a mask order across the state,” pointing to “COVID-19 cases” as the reason.
Featured Republicans in Jacksonville:where Trump is slated to deliver his acceptance speech, after North Carolina officials refused to allow him to pack an arena there:I have not shown similar concerns. Dean Black, chairman of the Duval County Republican Party, removed such concerns, telling The Daily Beast: “We believe that the Governor and our Mayor are handling things responsibly.”
“And the concern that this is somehow irresponsible and reckless is not true,” Black said.
Just a few weeks ago, some reported that DeSantis had been unfairly treated by reporters for his response to COVID-19. “Where is Ron DeSantis going to apologize?” a May 20 headline on The national magazine I ask.
Throughout the pandemic, DeSantis has remained A strong ally of the President. Trump has returned the favor, praising the governor’s approach to the outbreak. Republicans in the state didn’t seem to see much light between the two.
“You can’t make everyone happy and you certainly can’t make the media happy,” said Armando Ibarra, president of the Miami Young Republicans. “It has been a measured reopening based on a plan consistent with good practice.”
The head of the young Republicans even suggested that the number of people with COVID-19 was probably higher than public figures, but that the fatal impact of the disease may be exaggerated.
“We are looking at data now that there are a lot of undiagnosed walking positives that have not been tested,” Ibarra said. “That tells a different story about this virus; which is much less deadly than is reported. ”
The governor himself has expressed concern about the sudden increases in his state, saying this week: “What we have seen particularly in the last week is a real explosion in new cases among our younger demographic groups.” Critics say that’s what makes the reopening so dangerous.
On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with leaders from New Jersey and Connecticut, announced that people arriving “from states with a significant spread of COVID in the community” would need to “quarantine for 14 days.” . That would include Florida, along with states like Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina, among others.
Hours later, DeSantis appeared at a local school to sign a bill his office touted as “dedicated to increasing teacher salaries in Florida” with $ 500 million in funding at stake. As several masked people stood behind him and another woman peered out from under a mask, the governor waited until after signing the legislation to focus on the virus.
Even then, I wasn’t asking for a second closure or imposing a mask requirement, like the Democratic governor of North Carolina.
The Republican put on a mask while others spoke. However, after signing the bill, he handed out playful pens to those around him. Then he reminded people to avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places, and close contact spaces.
DeSantis was irritated when asked about Jones’ claims about the state’s coronavirus data.
“You have been in the conspiracy car for months. “You have no evidence of it,” said DeSantis. “You need to move on. I mean, you really do. It’s embarrassing right now.”
–With additional reports from Pilar Meléndez