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Ron DeSantis solidly ahead in Florida governor’s race, headed for recount

The Republican stayed close to Donald Trump, even amid troubling questions about his association with white nationalists.

Ron DeSantis
Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Republican Ron DeSantis has likely defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum, the young Tallahassee mayor who was vying to become the first black governor in Florida history, to keep the Sunshine State’s governor’s mansion in GOP hands.

The Associated Press called the race for DeSantis on Election Night, and Gillum initially conceded. But the race is headed for a recount. DeSantis leads Gillum by more than 30,000 votes — a gap unlikely to be closed even in a recount — but the margin is within 0.5 points, which triggers a recount under Florida law.

In the end, though, barring a historic reversal in the recount, DeSantis will eventually be confirmed as Florida’s next governor.

DeSantis clung tightly to President Donald Trump, except when Trump advanced a conspiracy theory about the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. DeSantis was also forced to disavow white nationalists who made racist robocalls attacking Gillum. The Democratic candidate won a lot of laudatory press coverage and was even buzzed about as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, but he was also weighed down by a corruption scandal in the city he served.

An FBI investigation into corruption in the state capital raised some uncomfortable questions for Gillum about a Broadway staging of Hamilton, a trip to Costa Rica, and a former college friend.

Adam Corey, a lobbyist and Gillum’s friend, allegedly sought to exploit his position to secure multimillion-dollar redevelopment contracts and otherwise work on behalf of the undercover FBI agents who were posing as developers. Two particular issues attracted special scrutiny: the city development agency’s votes on a $2.1 million restaurant project and to expand the agency’s jurisdiction at the secretive behest of the “developers.”

DeSantis has been in the US House since 2012; he’s had his eye on higher office for a while, originally planning to run for Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in 2016 before Rubio decided to reclaim his old spot after dropping out of the presidential campaign. DeSantis voted for the GOP tax law and Obamacare repeal in the House last year. FiveThirtyEight estimates that he has voted with Trump 94 percent of the time.

The Congress member has shamelessly sought Trump’s approval. One of his first campaign commercials showed him and his daughter building a model of the president’s wall and ended with his young son in a “Make America Great Again” onesie. DeSantis called Trump and asked for his endorsement.

“He’s a Trump hologram,” Mac Stipanovich, a self-described Never-Trump Republican, said earlier this year. “There’s just nothing to DeSantis other than the fact he was endorsed by Donald Trump.”

But his win is another sign that the Sunshine State is turning a deeper shade of red. Trump has stayed stubbornly popular, by his standards, in Florida. DeSantis succeeds Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who ran for Senate and squeaked out a win over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

DeSantis promised to use his close relationship with Trump to forward Florida’s interests in environmental policy and transportation as governor, to ban so-called sanctuary cities, and to sign anti-abortion legislation during his coming term. The legislature remains in Republican hands, giving the party wide latitude to implement its agenda in the state.

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