Despite sinking in polls, DeSantis doubles down on Trump pandemic response

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was effusive and outspoken in introducing President Donald Trump during Thursday’s rally at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

DeSantis ripped the “mainstream media” and called on Republicans to “storm the polls” on Election Day.

“If we go out and do what we need to do and deliver a big victory, you will be sending a message to the media about their fake news and everything they’ve done over the last four years,” DeSantis said.

During his rousing warm-up before 15,000 mostly mask-less supporters, which was interrupted twice by heat-related medical emergencies, however, DeSantis mostly doubled down on praising Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, touting Florida’s full September reopening as a model of how the president’s policies will get the nation “back to normal.”

While DeSantis was making a last-ditch pitch for Trump, who won Florida by 1 percent in 2016 and, according to some polls, trails Democratic contender Joe Biden in Florida, the governor’s colorful introductions for the president have was much to do with 2022 and, perhaps, 2024, as they do with 2020.

DeSantis will be inexorably tied to Trump if he chooses to run for governor again in 2022 or for president in 2024. He especially will be linked to Trump’s COVID-19 response as one of its biggest cheerleaders.

That association, however, doesn’t appear to be working well for the first-term governor.

In a Florida Atlantic University (FAU) survey of 937 voters from Oct. 24-25, 46% disapproved of DeSantis’ performance and 42% approved, a minus-4 favorability rate for the former congressman who once touted a plus-35 favorability and often was introduced as “America’s most popular governor.”

The shine has come off DeSantis for many Floridians since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. The governor still enjoyed a plus-19 favorability rating early in the crisis, but since August, a series of polls indicate Floridians in increasing numbers are critical of his policies and actions in dealing with COVID-19.

August is about the time when DeSantis adopted Trump pandemic adviser Dr. Scott Atlas’ views that de-emphasize universal testing and focus more on opening the economy and schools. The state reported an average of 90,000 tests per day in July. Since September, the daily average has been between 48,000 and 60,000 tests.

After Trump demanded in July that schools reopen nationwide, DeSantis was the nation’s first governor to push hard to reopen schools, supporting Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order that schools reopen for in-person learning.

Although not as severe as other parts of the country, but perhaps camouflaged by the decline in testing, Florida is experiencing a COVID-19 surge.

According to the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, the daily number of positive COVID-19 tests in Florida on Thursday exceeded 4,000 for the fourth time in the past week.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also are increasing in many parts of the state, eclipsing rates not seen since July.

While introducing Trump on Thursday, DeSantis attacked Biden, who staged a drive-in rally in Broward County on Thursday, for “hiding in his basement most of the time” while most members of the Trump campaign and the vast majority of rally-goers ignored CDC and Florida’s social distancing guidelines.

For his part, Trump returned the favor, praising the governor as “a great guy” and recalling how he didn’t initially want DeSantis to run for governor in 2018 because he needed him in Congress.

“Your governor was another one, he stood up … he’d be on television fighting for me, defending me,” Trump said.

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