PITTSBURGH — Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a campaign-style speech Thursday in Pittsburgh, boasted of his record and said his “fight” has only just begun.
DeSantis spoke at the Allegheny County GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner in the key battleground state. He offered the crowd plenty of red-meat rhetoric, taking aim at pandemic-related shutdowns, critical race theory and the mainstream press.
A close ally of former President Donald Trump, DeSantis is seen by some as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, having bolstered his profile during the pandemic. The Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll in Florida earlier this year found DeSantis in second place behind Trump. This week, a Politico/Morning Consult poll of the 2024 GOP primary race found Desantis, who is up for re-election next year, in third behind Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.
The governor launched his speech with a call to “open your states, open your schools [and] take off these mask mandates.” In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has set the mask mandate to be lifted when 70 percent of adults are vaccinated, with all other mitigation measures to be lifted on Memorial Day.
DeSantis then promoted new voting measures, anti-riot legislation, and efforts to bar critical race theory from Florida curriculum.
“As we look forward to the fights ahead, we cannot, indeed we will not go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” he said. “We are not going to do that.”
DeSantis saved much of his vitriol for the press, calling out specific CBS News and NBC News coverage.
“So what I would say to Republicans: Don’t seek approval from these people,” he said. “They don’t like you. They will smear you. They will attack you. The way to win is to fight back and not take it anymore Don’t let these people set the agenda for our party anymore.”
In conclusion, DeSantis called on attendees to “stand your ground” and teased his future plans.
“Hold the line. Don’t back down,” he said. “And in the state of Florida, with me as governor, I have only begun to fight.”
Ahead of the address, NBC News was told by a source in attendance that the event was closed to press. However, Fox News live-streamed the dinner. Earlier this month, DeSantis drew attention after signing new voting legislation into law live during an interview with “Fox & Friends.”