Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of the Republican Party’s rising stars, flew to Pittsburgh Friday to throw his support behind GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano and tell voters they have the opportunity to make Pennsylvania look a lot more like Florida in November.
DeSantis spent much of his time in Pittsburgh running through the highlights of his own time in office, but also offered a resounding endorsement for Mastriano and his far-right vision for the state.
”I’m going to be working to keep the state of Florida free, and you guys have an opportunity to make Pennsylvania free,” DeSantis told a crowd of hundreds at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. “Let’s get it done.”
DeSantis, who has been mentioned as a potential 2024 presidential contender, walked through his accomplishments as Florida’s chief executive, touting his record on election security, crime and the Sunshine State’s COVID-19 response.
We are, unabashedly, a law-and-order state.”
– Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)
“The free state of Florida has caused a lot of people who want to come visit” – and, he added, to live there. “I’ll tell you, one of the things that has caused so many people to want to move into Florida the last few years is that we are, unabashedly, a law-and-order state.”
DeSantis also touted the work of his state’s Office of Election Crimes and Security, which announced 20 arrests for illegal voting earlier this week.
This year’s gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania is a bitter battle between Mastriano and Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general. Shapiro has frequently looked to frame Mastriano as an “extremist candidate,” pointing to his efforts to push an alternate slate of electors in the state’s 2020 presidential election and highlighting Mastriano’s ties to Gab, a controversial social media platform.
Mastriano, meanwhile, has looked to use a similar line of attack against Shapiro, framing him and other Democrats as being out of touch with Pennsylvanians. He has built a campaign centered around individual liberties and opposition to government mandates and has made strengthening election security a key tenet of his campaign.
Pennsylvania candidate would go further than Florida on changing voting laws
Mastriano also focused on his desire to enact changes to the state’s election laws, going further than Florida to include banning mail-in voting and implementing universal voter ID requirements. “We will restore confidence and integrity to our elections,” he said, echoing a common talking point among GOP candidates this election cycle.
According to recent polls of the state’s gubernatorial race, Shapiro holds a double-digit lead over Mastriano. A poll commissioned by Pittsburgh Works Together and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies showed Shapiro with a 15-point lead over Mastriano, with 15% of voters still undecided. A separate Fox News poll released in July showed Shapiro leading Mastriano 50% to 40%, with 8% of voters undecided on the race.
In the days leading up to the event, DeSantis’ impending arrival was protested by faith leaders, as well as Democrats from Pennsylvania and Florida, who urged DeSantis not to associate himself with Mastriano. Faith leaders expressed worry about Mastriano’s ties to antisemitism, as Mastriano paid $5,000 to Gab, the far-right social media platform that has become an online hotbed for antisemitic content. He has also come under fire for past comments about Islam and climate change, among other topics.
Gab was used by Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 people in a mass shooting that occured at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in October 2018. Prior to the shooting, Bowers posted on Gab, saying: “Screw your optics, I’m going in,” according to a report from the Stanford Internet Observatory Cyber Policy Center.
Florida Democrats also publicly discouraged DeSantis from traveling to Pennsylvania to back Mastriano. Eric Lynn, a congressional candidate in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, told reporters this week that DeSantis’s support of Mastriano “is disrespectful and shameful to the entire Florida Jewish community, and to all Floridians.” But DeSantis appeared unmoved by criticisms from Democrats from his home state, offering a full-throated endorsement of Mastriano and his plans for the commonwealth.
“We are going to elect Doug Mastriano,” DeSantis told the crowd. “Pennsylvania needs somebody to stand up against violent crime, to stand up against mandates and restrictions. We need a governor who’s willing to stand up to Biden’s failed policies. This November, we are going to win in the state of Pennsylvania."
DeSantis also was set to join Ohio Republican candidate for U.S. Senate J.D. Vance in a rally at the Metroplex Expo Center in Girard, Ohio later Friday evening.
A version of this story was first published on City & State Pennsylvania.