Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to announce his 2024 candidacy, but that hasn’t stopped speculation from mounting as he takes the GOP by storm. DeSantis’ meteoric rise to fame is reminiscent of another former governor-turned-president, though, and if the similarities mean anything, then DeSantis could be the next president.
The year was 1998 and incumbent Texas Gov. George W. Bush cruised to reelection in a landslide vote. Bush won 68% of the vote, carrying 239 counties compared to Democrat Garry Mauro’s 15. Bush’s victory was multifaceted, winning 27% of the black vote, the highest percentage for any Republican statewide candidate, and 49% of the Latino vote.
While DeSantis didn’t near 70% of the popular vote in his reelection bid, he did beat former Republican Gov. and Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points, winning 59.4% of the vote compared to Crist’s 40%. DeSantis also became the first gubernatorial candidate to win the solid blue Miami-Dade county since 2002. When it came to Latino voters specifically, DeSantis outperformed Republicans, winning the Latino vote by an 18-point margin.
Getting the message out comes at a cost, however, with both DeSantis and Bush knowing the stakes.
Bush shattered fundraising records in both of his gubernatorial races, with CNN reporting in 1999 that “Bush raised more money than any other governor in U.S. history — a staggering $41 million in his two runs for governor.”
Bush had even announced that he took in $36 million from the first half of 1999, a “shock [that] was felt throughout the political community,” CNN reported.
CNN’s reporting on the massive fundraising haul was similar to how it reported DeSantis’ own massive intake. In April 2022, DeSantis had raised more than $100 million for his reelection campaign, becoming “perhaps” the first in the country to reach the nine-figure milestone exclusively through donations, the outlet wrote.
“He’s been asking for big licks — $5 million and $10 million per fundraiser — and he’s getting them and that’s a warning sign,” veteran GOP operative and former Chamber of Commerce top strategist Scott Reed told CNN. “DeSantis is the talk of every Republican cocktail party and every organizational meeting. His support spans the money class and the movement conservatives. And that’s a strong combination early in the game.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people raise that kind of money before,” Charlie Black, who previously worked on Bush’s presidential campaign, told the outlet. “Bush was successful with that strategy. The biggest thing DeSantis has to do is keep his eye on the ball and make sure he gets reelected.”
The Washington Post (WaPo) also reported on Bush’s impressive fundraising haul in July 1999.
“The financial and political advantages Bush holds over his rivals give him a luxury no other candidate enjoys. Sixteen months before November 2000, his campaign already has the look, feel and strategy of a general election campaign, not of someone who hasn’t even won his party’s nomination,” according to the outlet.
In terms of popularity, both candidates amassed a strong following.
In a general hypothetical matchup of Bush versus Gore, 56% of voters chose Bush while 40% chose Gore, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll from June 1999 found, according to CNN.
When it came down to the Republican field, Bush was expanding his lead just weeks after formally announcing his candidacy, a Gallup poll showed. Bush had a 32-point lead against rival Elizabeth Dole while also garnering 59% of Republicans as the party’s first choice for the GOP nomination, compared to Dole’s eight percent. Former Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain only won five percent in the same poll.
DeSantis, who is viewed as former President Donald Trump’s top competitor, has also experienced positive poll results.
DeSantis beats Trump by nine percentage points in a possible head-to-head matchup in a primary race, according to a WPAi for Club for Growth poll. A December poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal found that if the election had been held at the time the poll was conducted, 52% of likely Republican voters said they would support DeSantis, while 38% would support Trump. That said, other polls have indicated a Trump lead, though nonetheless DeSantis’ ability to beat out Trump in certain polls makes him a standout from other Republican contenders.
In fact, a look at The Washington Post’s 1999 reporting on Bush feels as though a simple swap of DeSantis’s name for Bush’s would still hold true.
“Bush’s remarkable success in raising money, corralling endorsements and, if polls are a useful guide, attracting significant support from Republican voters have put his rivals for the GOP nomination at a tremendous disadvantage,” WaPo wrote.
DeSantis’ mere presence in the field could scare not only Trump but also President Joe Biden, with top Democrats fearing a younger candidate could pose a significant threat to the incumbent, according to CNN.
Top Democratic officials believe Biden has a solid shot at taking on Trump for a second time, but worry someone younger, such as DeSantis, could defeat the current president. Two unnamed Democratic operatives were reportedly “uneasy” about the likelihood of Biden beating DeSantis.
DeSantis’ threatening presence is similar to that of Bush’s, based on a WaPo report from 1999.
“Bush’s early success also has had an unnerving effect on the Democrats. They now see the Texas governor as an extremely formidable, if untested, presidential candidate, and they are increasingly worried about the weaknesses apparent in the campaign of their front-runner, Vice President Gore,” according to the outlet.
Still, Bush was not facing a former president leading up to the 2000 race. DeSantis has an uphill battle to win over Trump’s core base, further complicated by the fact DeSantis and Trump share similar policy goals which are championed among the conservative voting base. Trump also has far more foreign policy experience than DeSantis, which could help put the former president in a better position as the U.S. continually engages with Ukraine and China.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.