Governor's race is top of mind for Tallahassee voters
For many Leon County voters, the race that stands out the most is the one for governor.
That's the case for 73-year-old Republican voter Grace Matthews, who voted for DeSantis. “He’s done a fantastic job for us," Matthews said. “He’s protected our economy the best he could during COVID," she said. "He gave us all freedoms that we should’ve had. He fought for us.”
Leon County voters' have several key races on the ballot, at the local, state and federal level. There's the mayoral race, state legislative races, races for state cabinet members, including attorney general, and races for U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. But when asked, voters casting their ballots during early voting cited the governor's race as the one that stands out most.
That's in line with results from a recent statewide survey of likely voters from University of South Florida, showing 80% of them describe the governor's race as “very important” in “shaping Florida’s future.”
The economy, inflation are overshadowing other issues, including abortion, health of democracy
The same USF survey shows inflation and other pocketbook issues matter more to most voters in the state than social issues, including LGBTQ rights and access to abortion.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing states to ban abortions energized Democrats, inflation has overshadowed that issue for many voters. And for a segment of voters concerned about rising costs, the issue is favoring Republicans, including DeSantis.
GOP voters also haven't forgotten the governor's stance against vaccine requirements, lockdowns, mask mandates and school closures during most of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republican voter Jarrett Liles, 52, credits DeSantis for the survival of his business during the pandemic. Liles owns three auto parts stores in Tallahassee.
“We didn’t have to shut down, considered us an essential business. I was able to maintain my staff, and they were able to continue to get paid.”
In 2018, DeSantis won by less than half a percentage point against Democrat Andrew Gillum. In the last four years, Republicans have made significant gains in Florida’s voter registration total – surpassing Democrats by nearly 300,000 registered voters. And days away from the election, DeSantis is leading Crist in statewide polling. While the governor has endeared himself to Republicans, he's also turned off Democrats.
“Abortion rights are on the ballot," said Brandon Moton, 32, a Democratic voter who says he voted for Crist. "Really, just decency, in my opinion is on the ballot, as well.”
Moton says the most important issues to him are the economy, voting rights and abortion, and he says he’s not happy with the way DeSantis has handled all three.
“I think his focus is on a presidential run instead of what our state needs right now.”
Moton says he's met Crist, and considers him a nice guy. Crist has served in state and federal office, retiring from Congress this summer to run for governor. Crist also served as a Republican governor between 2007 - 2011. He switched parties after endorsing former President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.
Could DeSantis' presidential ambitions hurt him at the polls?
DeSantis is widely considered a possible presidential candidate in 2024. During the first and only gubernatorial debate, Crist pressed DeSantis on whether he would put his political aspirations above serving a full term.
"Will you serve a full four-year term if you're reelected governor of Florida?" Crist asked DeSantis during the debate. "It's not a tough question. It's a fair question. He won't tell you."
DeSantis neither confirmed nor denied plans for a White House bid in 2024. “I just want to make things very, very clear. The only worn-out old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”
Republican voters at the polls said they wouldn't want the governor to resign early, but they would support him.
"We want to keep in Florida," said Jill Thorne, 68, a Republican voter in Tallahassee. "But yeah, I'd probably support him if he runs for president."
27-year-old independent voter Joseph Frye-Jones isn’t excited to vote for Crist, but he says he doesn’t want DeSantis to win another term.
"He’s putting his political gains ahead of Florida, rather than trying to craft a better Florida," Frye-Jones said. Specifically, he says he's displeased with how DeSantis' policies restricting classroom instruction on LGBTQ-related topics.
Tampa-based political analyst Susan McManus, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida, doesn't believe the possibility of DeSantis seeking the presidency in 2024 will hurt his chances of getting re-elected governor.
"It could be a reinforcement to people who are thinking about voting against him, but that's just the last straw," McManus said. "Maybe for some people, who are what we call 'leaners', but undecided as to whether they're going to go vote, it might have some impact. The question is: What proportion of the undecided voters is that? And it's not really a big payoff.”
In a close race, it might matter more because in that scenario "every vote counts," McManus explained. "It's just we might not have a close race this time."