TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As Hurricane Idalia, with winds up to 125 mph, made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, all eyes are on Governor Ron DeSantis, whose response to the storm could influence his 2024 presidential campaign.
Temporarily halting his campaign, DeSantis returned to Florida to help coordinate hurricane preparations. The storm poses significant threats, including flooding, storm surges, and heavy rain. For DeSantis, this is an opportunity to show Florida he's focused on them and exhibit national leadership during crisis.
"Ron DeSantis has a chance to resonate with Republican voters during this crisis," said Christopher Devine, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton, Ohio. He referenced the perceived poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis by Donald Trump in 2020 and highlighted DeSantis' popular response among Republicans. This hurricane presents an occasion for DeSantis to remind voters of his leadership qualities.
Despite his initial position as a potential GOP frontrunner for 2024, DeSantis' campaign has faced challenges, notably being overshadowed by Trump's dominant presence in GOP primary polls. The first Republican primary debate, without Trump, was hoped to give DeSantis a boost, but his performance was considered stable yet forgettable by many analysts.
Hurricane Idalia gives DeSantis another chance to showcase leadership and empathy; qualities critics say he needs to win over more voters. "DeSantis can exhibit effective governance during this crisis, differentiating himself from Trump and potentially gaining wider voter confidence," Devine said.
In 2022, DeSantis was commended for his handling of Hurricane Ian. His collaborative approach with President Joe Biden, with whom he jointly toured impacted areas, signaled bipartisan unity. During his reelection campaign for governor, that collaboration may have contributed to his wide-margin victory against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
However, Danielle Vinson, a politics professor at Furman University, South Carolina, believes a successful response to Hurricane Idalia may not significantly change DeSantis' primary prospects. "Unless there's a major mishap, most GOP primary voters, who see DeSantis as competent, might still prefer Trump," she commented.
With the looming threat of Hurricane Idalia, DeSantis emphasized his commitment to Florida during a press conference. Comparing the situation to past storms, he expressed hope that Idalia wouldn't be as devastating as Hurricane Ian but affirmed his readiness to address the challenges ahead.