DeSantis risks voter backlash in Florida with migrant flights

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is facing mounting criticism in his home state over his controversial decision last week to fly dozens of mostly Venezuelan migrants to the elite resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

While the move was hailed by conservatives as a strong protest against the Biden administration’s approach to border security, it has sparked a wave of criticism from Democrats and members of Florida’s vast Hispanic community, a politically influential force in the Sunshine. state.

“With this move, this stunt, he clearly made his base very happy,” said Adelys Ferro, the executive director of the Venezuelan-American Caucus. “But there are a lot of people more towards the middle and people who are independent who are very disgusted and reject all this.”

“We are Venezuelan Americans and we vote, and we are going to vote in November,” she added. “And we’re never going to vote for anyone who does this.”

The migrant flight from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard — and DeSantis’ promise that more will follow — has already sparked a slew of legal action. A Texas sheriff said Monday that his office would investigate the legality of the flight as a Florida state legislator prepares to file a lawsuit to stop DeSantis from carrying more migrants from the southern border.

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But whether the migrant flights — called a political stunt by critics — will weigh on DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate who will be re-elected this year, remains an open question.

On the one hand, the movement threatens to clash with Latino voters, especially in South Florida, a high-vote part of the state with a huge community of exiles fleeing the oppressive governments in Latin America. The GOP has strengthened its position among Latinos in recent years, though strategists on both sides of the aisle say those gains aren’t set in stone.

“I think we should be careful about taking Hispanics for granted in the same way Democrats took them for granted,” said a Republican strategist who has worked on campaigns in Florida. “We’re talking about voters who like Republican policies, but may not consider themselves Republican. They are still open to hearing the other side.”

Still, the migrant flight also has the potential to endear DeSantis even more to conservatives ahead of a potential bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

“This is a story that has put him at the forefront of the national conversation in recent weeks,” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster who helped former President Obama win the state in 2008 and 2012. “So from his perspective As long as he’s not charged, I think he sees it as a good thing.”

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And as for his reelection bid, DeSantis seems well positioned to defeat his Democratic rival Charlie Crist, a former congressman and Republican governor of Florida. Not only do polls in that race show that DeSantis is regularly in the lead, but he also has a steep financial edge. DeSantis has raised more than $130 million for his reelection efforts to date.

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who led Obama’s campaign operation in the Sunshine State, also noted that the migrant flight isn’t the only controversial move that’s paying off politically for DeSantis. Florida’s governor gained national exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking a laissez-faire approach to the outbreak, despite warnings from public health officials.

“He took a gamble on COVID and it paid off,” Schale said. “In the eyes of the public, it was a successful victory. The lesson here was: he can lean on these divisive issues and pay no fine for them.”

Schale said DeSantis and his campaign have already bet that the support of the GOP’s conservative base will be enough to get a second term in November and that there is little actual political risk in potentially knocking out convincing voters.

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“Guys on my side don’t always give him the credit he deserves,” Schale said. “They don’t think they need to win convincing voters to win reelection. They have calculated that they are safe in this room.’

Ana Navarro, a longtime GOP strategist who co-hosts ABC’s “The View,” agreed with Schale’s assessment that DeSantis only cares about targeting the most conservative voters — and that includes Republican voters who are themselves fled repressive foreign governments.

“Looks like his plan is to raise his national profile and bring out as much of his base as possible and not really worry about attractiveness to those in the middle,” said Navarro, who is based in Miami. “Without a doubt, most of his base loves what he does, unfortunately, including other Floridians who came to this country fleeing repression but have apparently forgotten about it. I really don’t get it.”

A Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that while voters are divided over the appropriateness of sending migrants to more liberal parts of the country, the tactic is still popular among Republicans. Sixty-six percent of GOP voters said it’s appropriate, while just 19 percent said it’s inappropriate.

That’s not to say there can’t be consequences for DeSantis. In addition to the criminal investigation being conducted by Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, some migrants flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week filed a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts on Tuesday, alleging that DeSantis and other state officials were involved. involved in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme.”

In that case, the migrants demand unspecified compensation.

DeSantis is not the only Republican governor to have sent migrants away from the southern border of the US to more democratically oriented parts of the country. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (right), who is also up for re-election, has been doing this for months, as has Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (right).

But what made DeSantis’ attempt even more controversial was the fact that none of the 48 migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard had ever set foot in Florida. In addition, the migrants are said to have been misled about their destination.

DeSantis has defended the move, arguing that illegal immigration isn’t just a problem for border states to deal with. Officials in his administration have also argued that the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard were “homeless, hungry and sleeping outside in parking lots” before making the trip, in an effort to put a humanitarian spin on the endeavor.

Still, DeSantis’ critics say there is no moral ambiguity when it comes to what the governor did. Ferro, the executive director of the Venezuelan-American Caucus, accused DeSantis of playing politics with a humanitarian crisis, saying that “people — even many Republicans — are mortified and disgusted.”

Amandi, the Democratic pollster, also said the Republicans he spoke to in the state are not happy.

“In their hearts they know this will have consequences,” he said.

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