Ron DeSantis concentrates with Doug Mastriano and JD Vance

PITTSBURGH — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely seen as the Republican who poses the biggest threat to Donald J. Trump if both run for president in 2024, stopped by Pennsylvania and Ohio on Friday during a national tour with candidates from the extreme right which was clearly intent on raising its position and gaining political capital with potential future leaders in the battleground states.

Before an audience of more than 1,000 people at an event in Pittsburgh nominally intended to help the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, Mr. DeSantis delivered a 40-minute speech that had the makings of a national candidate’s speech: snippets of personal biography, blasts at the Biden administration and brags about his accomplishments in Florida that were heavy on cultural messages.

“We cannot stand idly by while the awakened ideology reaches every institution in our society,” proclaimed Mr. DeSantis, citing laws he has signed. bar transgender athletes in women’s and girls’ sports and ban the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in early grades.

As he seeks to wrest control from the conservative movement, Mr. DeSantis appears with some of his most prominent and incendiary figures: midterm candidates who, unlike him, have relentlessly pushed the fiction that the 2020 election was stolen. His demonstrations on Friday for Mr. Mastriano and JD Vance, the Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, came five days after an event for Kari Lake, the Republican pick for governor in Arizona, and Blake Masters, the Senate candidate there.

The catch: All of these candidates identify with and support Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.

This leaves Mr. DeSantis is walking a fine line as he tries to forge alliances with candidates handpicked by Mr. Trump for 2022 and at the same time conveys the message that the Republican Party does not belong only to the former president.

Mr. DeSantis and his allies may see a political opening in Mr. trump But at the same time, the former president is widely expected to embark on a third bid for the White House, and the investigations surrounding him have led Republicans to rally around their embattled leader, reasserting their hold on the match

DeSantis’ supporters believe he can appeal to many Republicans as a figure who fights the same cultural battles as Mr. Trump but without the chaos and with the ability to win over some moderate voters beyond the party’s base.

“DeSantis leans in and leads on the important policy issues that people care about, but he does it without the nasty craziness that turns off independent and swing voters — the people you need to win Pennsylvania,” said Matthew Brouillette, leader of ‘an influential conservative political group in the state. “They gave Trump a chance in 2016, but they had enough in 2020. It’s time to move on.”

In Pittsburgh, Mr. DeSantis began his speech with a personal slide show that was typical of how a candidate might be introduced at a political convention, including a picture of him as a little boy wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers hat.

The governor, who has a reputation as a sometimes wooden speaker, stood behind a lectern throughout his speech, as if giving a lecture, holding his hands on the edges.

But the crowd reacted enthusiastically, often jumping to their feet as he talked about how under his watch, Florida had banned what he called “ballot picking,” or the practice of voters depositing ballots for other people, as well as outlawed that schools enact masks. mandates during the pandemic.

He attacked Democrats’ recently passed climate, health and tax law by focusing on hiring more than 80,000 Internal Revenue Service employees over a decade, aimed in part at restoring the agency’s depleted enforcement staff. Echoing right-wing conspiracy theories about the hirings, which the Biden administration says will not lead to new audits of households making less than $400,000, Mr. DeSantis stated that the staffing increase “will absolutely affect people who are small business owners, contractors, etc. You name it.”

On Tuesday, Florida Democrats will decide whether to nominate Representative Charlie Crist or Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner, to challenge Mr. DeSantis in November. The national profile of Mr. DeSantis has allowed him to raise more than $130 million in campaign cash, making him a formidable incumbent.

Democrats know they have a strong chance of defeating him, but have recently begun to believe there is a narrow path to doing so, in part because of voter frustration over the elimination of federal abortion rights and a new Florida law restricting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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We trust our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members can vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for political candidates or causes. This includes participating in marches or demonstrations in support of a movement or donating money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or electoral cause.

Mr. DeSantis, who did not respond to a request for comment, also appeared Friday evening at an event with Mr. Vance outside of Youngstown, Ohio. On Sunday, he campaigned in Arizona with Ms. Lake and Mr. Masters, as well as in New Mexico with Mark Ronchetti, the Republican candidate for governor, and Representative Yvette Herrell.

His appearances have been organized by Turning Point Action, a conservative youth group led by Charlie Kirk, 28, who is close to the Trump family and has been one of the main purveyors of disinformation on issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, the election of 2020 and climate change.

Jewish Democratic leaders in Florida criticized the planned appearance of Mr. DeSantis with Mr. Mastriano in the same city as the synagogue of the Tree of Life.

“When Ron DeSantis goes to Pennsylvania to campaign for Mastriano, what he’s doing is encouraging all the bigotry,” said Rabbi Mark Winer, chairman of the Florida Democratic Jewish Caucus.

In Ohio, DeSantis’ rally is in the congressional district of Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic Senate candidate who is putting Mr. Vance mounts an unexpectedly close challenge in a state that has reliably tilted in recent years.

Republican concerns about the race were confirmed Thursday when a super PAC linked up with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said set aside $28 million in television and radio ads to help Mr. Vance, a huge increase over Republican commitments prior to the contest.

In Florida, Mr. DeSantis has governed the state as a laboratory for right-wing politics, though the red state is still a pretty divided battleground. But while he’s campaigning to the Trump-loving Republican base as a pugilist fighting “woke” liberals, he’s been careful so far in TV ads for his re-election campaign to strike a slightly different tone.

Most of their ads don’t include a message from Mr. DeSantis; rather, they feature people praising his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and voiceover readings of thank-you letters his office has received from happy constituents.

Mr. DeSantis has avoided repeating false claims about fraud in the 2020 presidential contest, preferring instead to focus on election laws he has pushed through in Florida, including the creation of an election crime and security office. On Thursday, he announced that 17 people had been charged with casting illegal ballots in 2020, an election in which 11.1 million Floridians voted.

Some of the cultural offensives of Mr. DeSantis have met legal resistance: Thursday, a federal judge blocked a key part of one of the governor’s signature lawsknown as the Stop WOKE Act, which bans discussions about race that make people feel uncomfortable in schools and corporations.

After Mr. As DeSantis spoke in Pittsburgh, nearby resident and business owner Jack Lynch said the Florida governor had “far exceeded my expectations.”

He called the speech “a preview” of a DeSantis run for president. When asked if the governor would win his vote against Mr. Trump in a 2024 primary, Mr. Lynch said, “I think he’s on the way to doing it with a lot of people here, not just me.”

Trip Gabriel reported from Pittsburgh and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.

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