After DeSantis unseated him, Andrew Warren’s political profile rises

TAMPA – Andrew Warren may have been escorted out of his office, but lately he can be found in living rooms across America.

The embattled Hillsborough state’s attorney who was publicly fired earlier this month by Gov. Ron DeSantis has been making frequent appearances on cable news shows. He is asking for donations to support him in his fight to keep his job. His Twitter following has grown from a few thousand to around 45,000. Even his dog, Dudley, appeared in a Washington Post photo when the country learned of Warren’s name.

By firing Warren, DeSantis raised the Democrat’s political profile exponentially. Warren has gone from being a high-profile but demoted public office holder with little name recognition to a symbol of what liberals — and some nonpartisan pundits — see as the dangerous power play of an ambitious governor. The question now, political pundits say, is whether Warren’s new platform will have lasting power or recede with the next news cycle.

“People who hadn’t even heard of Andrew Warren before have definitely heard of him now,” said Ashley Walker, a veteran South Florida Democratic political strategist whose firm does not work with Warren. “What he does with that and how he takes advantage of that is up to him.”

Andrew Warren checks messages on his phone as he prepares to leave a hotel after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.Andrew Warren checks messages on his phone as he prepares to leave a hotel after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

In addition to his team of lawyers strategizing to win back his job, Warren has also assembled a cadre of public relations professionals, forming a campaign-like operation at Warren’s South Tampa home, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

On Wednesday, before facing a room full of cameras and reporters to announce a federal lawsuit against DeSantis, Warren practiced her speech in her Tallahassee hotel room one last time. Lawyers and communication experts gathered to review the discussion points.

About an hour earlier, Warren had appeared on CNN from an iPhone balanced on a hotel coffee machine on top of an overturned trash can, saying his suspension was tantamount to DeSantis “throwing away the votes of the people”. A sign with the name of his legal fund was taped to the TV behind him.

Related: DeSantis sued for ousted Tampa state’s attorney who wants back to work

Some observers say Warren’s courier path is crowded. He tries too hard to seize the moment and he could come across as a partisan warrior, exactly the criticism DeSantis leveled at him. The governor accused him of putting politics above the law when he signed pledges promising not to pursue cases related to limits on abortion or transgender health care.

Warren has insisted that his singular focus is being reinstated as Hillsborough’s top prosecutor, a process that will begin in the courts and could end in the Florida Senate.

Through a spokesman, Warren declined to be interviewed for this story. But during a news conference in Tampa on Wednesday, a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times asked Warren about how his ouster has increased his visibility.

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“This is such an important issue; I mean, you can’t overstate the importance of this. This is not about me,” he said. “This is about the attempted overthrow of democracy in Florida, and that’s the fight we’re fighting.”

Warren’s removal likely would have been politicized even if it had remained silent, said Joshua Scacco, a University of South Florida professor specializing in political communication.

It’s a made-for-TV story of a progressive prosecutor battling America’s most prominent Republican governor, Scacco said.

Andrew Warren takes stock as he practices his speech before Wednesday's press conference in Tallahassee.Andrew Warren takes stock as he practices his speech before Wednesday’s press conference in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

But that story, he warned, could quickly overshadow the very real questions Warren’s suspension has raised about democracy and the separation of powers.

“Action and reaction are compatible with the media environment we’re in, where outrage is designed to garner attention, especially among the grassroots of political parties,” Scacco said. “These issues get thrown into a polarizing mix and some things have to be above politics.”

When Warren, a Gainesville native, ran in 2016 against a longtime Republican incumbent, the former federal prosecutor was seen as an outsider among Tampa’s typically homegrown political class. After his razor-thin election night upset, rumors circulated that Warren would use the prosecutor’s job as a stepping stone to higher office.

But he ran and won a second term in 2020, this time by a wider margin.

Still, political insiders speculate that he may seek a statewide office or one in Washington, D.C., and suggest that his re-election bid could boost his chances. Last year, he openly considered a run for Florida attorney general in 2022, but decided against it.

Walker said the key to extending his time in the spotlight is broadening his appeal, possibly positioning himself as a counter to DeSantis.

“I could be more active on the political scene and get out there and be a stand-in for whoever the Democratic nominee is,” he said. “I could come out and take a criminal justice platform and say, ‘There should be more separation between politics and the criminal justice system.'”

Related: Florida lawmakers could challenge DeSantis in the Andrew Warren case. They probably won’t.

Ana Cruz, a prominent Tampa lobbyist and Democrat, said she would advise Warren to focus on the issue of democracy and how her election was overturned by DeSantis’ suspension, which aligns with the core of the your message so far.

“I think it has a real opportunity to talk about how fragile our election system could be,” he said.

Andrew Warren, right, looks at his cell phone as communications adviser Grayson Kamm taps a poster to the television in Warren's hotel room just before a CNN interview Wednesday in Tallahassee.Andrew Warren, right, looks at his cell phone as communications adviser Grayson Kamm taps a poster to the television in Warren’s hotel room just before a CNN interview Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The state political committee Warren has promoted, Safer Stronger Florida, received more donations on Aug. 5, the day after DeSantis announced Warren’s ouster, than on any other day since its creation in 2017, according to the filings of campaign financing. That date also marked the first time Warren tweeted the link to her donation page.

Then, the following week, he broke his own record, with the committee’s best day generating nearly 300 contributions on August 8.

Most of the contributions were $100 or less and many came from Florida donors, although many came from out of state, including $15 from a retiree in Philadelphia, $100 from a scientist in Nova Orleans or $50 from an executive coach in San Francisco. .

Warren has since gone on to plug a legal fund instead of the political committee.

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers and political operatives is launching a 501(c)4 nonprofit to raise funds and send messages about “the assault on democracy that this governor’s overreach is,” the attorney said of Tallahassee, Ron Meyer, who works with Warren.

Andrew Warren speaks on a phone call after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.Andrew Warren speaks on a phone call after a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

DeSantis has also used Warren’s impeachment to raise money for his re-election campaign, which has already broken state records by raising more than $150 million.

“After announcing the impeachment of a Soros-backed prosecutor who refuses to do his job, I have a target on my back,” read a text message blast that featured a video from the DeSantis campaign. “I’m counting on our grassroots supporters to step up at midnight tonight. Believe me, this is the single most important thing you can do to protect Florida’s freedom.”

Sean Shaw, a former state House member from Tampa who is active in politics, said that “30 seconds” after learning of Warren’s suspension, he could have predicted that Warren was about to become “a national star”.

Warren “will have many options going forward,” Shaw said, adding that the White House should target her for a Justice Department appointment.

Adam Goodman, a longtime Republican media strategist, said that while Warren’s name is more recognizable now, it may not return him to elected office.

“You can ask the question, ‘Does Andrew Warren end up in a similar role to Liz Cheney?’ ” Goodman said, referring to the Republican member of the U.S. House who lost his Wyoming primary after crossing Trump. “Liz Cheney has never been better known than she is today … (but) where does this end? “

Andrew Warren, left, looks on as attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee.Andrew Warren, left, looks on as attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Times photo director Chris Urso and staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report.

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