AJ's Oyster Shanty on Okaloosa Island was the last stop Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis made prior to the polls opening for Tuesday’s general election.
“This is our last official campaign stop and we chose this place because we know victory comes right through here,” state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, Desantis’s choice to serve as lieutenant governor, told a boisterous crowd of about 250.
Gov. Rick Scott has often boasted that his success as the Republican candidate in consecutive elections was largely due to wide GOP margins of victory in Northwest Florida.
As this year’s GOP standard bearer, DeSantis, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, hoped to replicate Scott's Panhandle magic.
DeSantis didn’t spend nearly as much time Monday discussing his campaign platform as he did criticizing his opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum.
“Andrew Gillum has a very strong left-wing ideology, he is a true believer,” the outgoing congressman told the crowd. “When he comes in he would wreck the state of Florida as governor.”
DeSantis said Gillum would destroy a sound state economy by implementing huge tax increases or even possibly establishing a state income tax. He, by contrast, would “capitalize on the success here we’ve had.”
“I would keep taxes low, which is why people want to come to Florida,” he said. “I will never raise taxes or have a state income tax.”
DeSantis declared himself the pro-law enforcement and pro-military candidate in the governor’s race and claimed Gillum would wage war against the Second Amendment rights of Florida’s citizens.
Gillum, DeSantis said, would be a “left-wing governor pursuing a Bernie Sanders agenda.”
The crowd voiced extreme disapproval when DeSantis said Gillum would advocate as governor for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
In contrast, the former congressman said, “I can pick up the phone, call the president and get things done, no problem.”
DeSantis did not touch on any local issues in his speech, but when pressed afterward he did generally address HB 631. The new state law negated a customary use ordinance established in Walton County in 2016 and created controversy that pitted beachfront private property owners against beachgoers, with local government and law enforcement stuck in the middle.
Asked how he would address the issue as governor, DeSantis replied, "I want people to have access to the beach. Whatever I do I want to make sure is good for Florida."
Gillum said last week he would work to repeal HB 631.
The visit to very red Okaloosa County on the last night before Election Day was intended to target those who hadn’t voted early and urge those in attendance to help get out the vote, said Mark Franks, the president of the county’s Republican Executive Committee.
“I think you’re going to see a big red wave tomorrow. This is a great turnout and we’re excited about what we’re going to see tomorrow,” Franks said.
DeSantis urged those who have already voted to find neighbors and friends who had not, and get them to the polls.
DeSantis and all those who spoke before and after him, including his wife Casey, exuded Franks-like confidence in discussing a road to Republican victory, though most pundits believe the governor’s race will be extremely close.
Sunshine State News reported Monday that Quinnipiac University had released a poll that very day showing Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, leading DeSantis by a 50 to 43 percent margin.
Though the crowd that turned out for DeSantis did not equal in numbers that which showed up last week when Gillum visited Destin, it was every bit as enthusiastic and carried a lot more star power.
State Sen. Doug Broxson and state Rep. Mel Ponder both had a role to play in the evening's event, and County Commissioners Graham Fountain and Carolyn Ketchel, along with Tax Collector Ben Anderson, were all in attendance.
"He'll be a very good governor. I'm excited," Broxson said of DeSantis.