Christian Ziegler, the new chair of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), has gotten the perfect hand. His party dominated all of the top-of-the-ticket races last election, holds a supermajority in both chambers of the state Legislature, and has a GOP superstar in Ron DeSantis.
He succeeded Joe Gruters, the previous chair and a state senator, credited with many of the party’s strides in-state, including overtaking Democrats here in terms of registered voters. In a conversation with City & State Florida, Ziegler said the party’s success also is thanks to strong leadership from DeSantis, and decades-long preparation. He also believes that there are political frontiers still untouched in the Sunshine State where Republicans can continue planting their flag.
Related coverage –
- FIRST UP: There’s a new honcho at the Republican Party of Florida
- Politics abhors a vacuum: Candidates line up to lead state political parties
- Session preview: Housing, education, cultural battles atop conservative agenda in Florida
With that, City & State has five questions for Ziegler. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity:
Now that you have been elected chair, what is your first focus?
I've been diving in and figuring out where the organization is and starting to plan on where it's going to go. We've obviously been very fortunate, and have executed very well with a lot of success, whether it be through voter registration or the results of recent elections. I'm a digital guy and I'm a comm’s guy, and I think we can improve on both. That's going to be a strong focus of mine. I was one of the digital directors, what we called “new media” directors back then, on Capitol Hill back in 2006. Using digital marketing and comm’s has really been a passion and a focus of mine. I believe we can improve there and really kind of take this modernization to the next level.
What’s left for Republicans to chase, electorally speaking?
City, county commission races, school board races, and really focusing on making sure that we're holding these individuals accountable and we're removing them from office when they're doing a bad job. Before, neither party really paid a lot of attention to local races, but one group did: the teachers unions. And they had been very effective getting liberals elected. Last year, we saw what happens when you come in and you highlight these races like Gov. DeSantis and Republicans did.
Coverage from The News Service of Florida – DeSantis Chalks Up Wins in School Board Races
The governor endorsed 31 School Board candidates and I believe 26 of them ended up taking office. There's a need and a desire from the public to be informed about who are the good school board candidates, and who needs to be replaced. So that's what we're gonna really focus on, bringing it back to the local level and empowering our county parties, working with them to really focus on these local races to make sure we have conservatives elected from the top of the ticket all the way to the bottom.
How is the RPOF going to work with local Republican organizations to make that happen?
No. 1, we're involved with candidate recruitment. We go out there and make sure that we're finding the right candidates to run because we need quality candidates at every level. No. 2, it's making sure we supply local parties with the resources to really drive that get-out-the-vote effort for the candidates that we support.
But the most important one must happen every single day, not just providing the financial resources, but also training and strategic resources to our counties to make sure they're very successful. We have 67 counties and we really empower them and we entrust them to execute at the very local level. Our job is to get them trained by the best and brightest minds in our party and equip them to battle in their local communities.
Florida Republicans dominated this last election cycle while Republicans nationwide underperformed in several key states. What is your party’s role in helping Republicans nationwide find more success?
We're very fortunate. We have a very professional operation that is battle-tested with the historical knowledge of dealing with very close elections. Up until last November, if you won by a couple points in Florida, that was a landslide victory. Gov. DeSantis has raised it to 19.4 (points), which is insane. But up until then, we've had these close, statewide elections. Our state is incredibly diverse, probably the most diverse state in the entire country, in terms of various demographics represented. That has helped us learn how to execute.
In terms of the other states, it's already happening. I’ve had large donors from other states reach out to me, I’ve had state party leaders from other states reach out to me. I’ve had activists and even legislators from other states that are wanting to sit down and discuss what we are doing in Florida that's effective.
It's really a mix of two things: The incredible conservative leadership that we have in Tallahassee, but also the ground game and the operation that we're doing statewide, from a state party perspective. It's great leadership plus having professional party operations that has combined for a very successful operation. We need to make sure other state parties have the same resources and access to the knowledge that we have here, because we want those other states to succeed as well.
The Florida Democratic Party also has elected a new chair. You have been critical of her on social media. What are your thoughts on the Democrats’ decision to elect Nikki Fried as their new chair?
Nikki Fried is not just a failed elected official, she is a failed Democrat candidate with Democrat voters. Whoever the state party chairman is should be someone that should easily win a primary on their side of the aisle. She got absolutely destroyed in her primary for governor.
Previous coverage – Charlie Crist defeats Nikki Fried, sets up battle with Ron DeSantis for Florida governor
The same voters that she's going to have to try to mobilize and energize and get working and unite behind her are the same ones that showed up to the polls to reject her. I think that's embarrassing, but it's not unexpected from the Florida Democrat Party. They do everything in their power to lose, and this is another step towards that goal.
She's made my job a lot easier. We're not going to let off the gas, but as the Republican Party of Florida chairman, I could not think of a better person to lead the Democrat party at this point. I look forward to watching her struggle and watching her fail on the Democrat side.