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Two GOP leaders vie to chair the Republican Party of Florida

A wooden signpost with two signs pointing in opposite directions. One says "Republican," one says "Democrat."
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Florida Republicans are dominant in state politics, but looking to become more so

After a run of successes, the Republican Party of Florida is looking for a new leader. Outgoing party chair Joe Gruters will leave early next year to run for treasurer of the Republican National Committee. Now two high-powered leaders of the state GOP are vying to succeed Gruters -- and to wipe out what’s left of the Florida Democrats.

The two candidates in the race so far are Sarasota County State Committeeman Christian Ziegler and Leon County GOP Chair Evan Power. They’re both proud of how the state party has performed in recent years … commanding the Governor’s Mansion, Legislature and Cabinet.

“We’ve absolutely crushed the Democrats in voter registration,” Ziegler says. “Back in 2008, I think there were 650,000 more Democrats than Republicans in Florida. Now we’re at more than 300,000 more Republicans than Democrats in Florida. So we’ve had almost a million voter-registration, a million-voter swing towards the Republican side. That’s incredible. Governor DeSantis winning by almost 20 points is incredible.”  

Power led the GOP to substantial victories in traditionally blue Leon County, increasing Republican turnout from year to year.

“And at the same time, we’ve depressed some of their turnout, because they’ve become more radical,” he says. “And so what we’ve done is turned out Republicans at a historically high rate, and they’ve not been as successful. And we were able to flip a state senate seat and a school board seat. We were also able as a local party to out-raise the Democratic Party two-to-one -- which I don’t think can be over-explained on how successful that was in helping us send our message out to the voters.”  

But both candidates eye the map of Florida and see Democrats still in office. In addition to having been a Sarasota County Commissioner, Ziegler has been the statewide party’s vice chair. He says Democrats are promoting the breakdown of the family.

“There are still some Democrats in the House -- in both the state House and the state Senate. They need to be defeated,” Ziegler says. “They need to be out of office. You go around the state, and you see in these local communities, whether it’s at the school board level or the city commission level or the county commission level, the Democrats there are trying to really impose a leftist agenda on citizens in Florida. Until they’re all out of office, our work is not done.”  

Power has chaired the Leon County Republican Party for 8 years and has been the state party’s Chairman of Chairs for four years. He acknowledges that statewide the party is in a very strong position, but wants to focus on winning more city and county commission seats.

“I think if you look across the state, there’s a lot of places. You look in Tampa, where we were extremely successful in the last election. There is a city council there, and a mayor there that is not in line with our agenda,” Power says. “So you have Jacksonville, you have Tampa, you have Miami -- you have those areas where we’ve been successful that we need to deliver Republican leaders and get some people elected in Tampa and Miami that can change the trajectory there.”

What more could a party leader do to build on the recent record of Florida Republicans?

“I think we obviously need to have a strong performance in a presidential race to return a president to the White House,” he says. “And also on county and cities -- I think there’s a lot of work to do there, to elect some strong Republicans to lead some counties and some cities where we see some Democrats trying to set an agenda that’s a little more progressive. And we need to fight on those levels so that we can be competitive and build a bench long term.”

Ziegler says he wants to make the state “more ruby red.”

“...and protect the state, not just for ourselves but for the next generation,” he says. “It’s almost like NASCAR: I don’t want to just win, I don’t want to get to the finish line before them -- I actually want to lap them a couple of times. So that’s my focus and that’s my passion. And that’s what we’re going to do. If I become chairman, I’m going to be a very aggressive, hands-on chairman. I’m going to do this non-stop. And we’re going to continue to crush the Democrats in Florida.”  :

So far Power and Ziegler are the only two candidates in the race. The election is in February.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.