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Trump, Biden, turn up the volume on DeSantis as Florida governor’s 2024 stature rises


As his political stature soars ahead of a potential presidential run, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is increasingly feeling the heat and taking income fire from possible rivals in the 2024 White House race.

In recent days the verbal attack came not from one of his likely rivals for the GOP nomination, but from President Biden.

The president, in Florida on Thursday as part of his post State of the Union address tour in critical electoral states, took aim at DeSantis for opposing Medicaid expansion provided under the Affordable Care Act.

"Over 1.1 million people in Florida would be eligible for Medicaid if Governor DeSantis just said, ‘I agree to expand it,’" the president said as he noted that Florida’s one of only 11 states not to expand Medicaid.

President Joe Biden speaks about his administration's plans to protect Social Security and Medicare and lower healthcare costs, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, at the University of Tampa in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Joe Biden speaks about his administration's plans to protect Social Security and Medicare and lower healthcare costs, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, at the University of Tampa in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (AP )

The president’s jabs come as public opinion polling suggests a hypothetical Biden-DeSantis showdown in the 2024 election would be competitive.

While Biden kept his criticism to policy, former President Donald Trump was more combative. 

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The former president last week twice reposted and commented on social media posts that accused DeSantis of "grooming" underage girls during his brief tenure years ago as a high school teacher. The posting included an image that purportedly showed the governor drinking alcohol with teenage girls.

The jabs from Trump drew a rare response from DeSantis, who said at a Wednesday news conference that "I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans."

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While Trump remains the most influential politician in the GOP and arguably the party’s top fundraiser when it comes to energizing the grassroots, the first three months of his latest White House bid have been anything but spectacular.

Former President Donald Trump gives the headline address at the New Hampshire GOP annual meeting, in Salem, New Hampshire on Jan. 28, 2023. Trump is joined by outgoing NHGOP chair Steve Stepanek (right), who is joining Trump's campaign as a senior adviser in New Hampshire

Former President Donald Trump gives the headline address at the New Hampshire GOP annual meeting, in Salem, New Hampshire on Jan. 28, 2023. Trump is joined by outgoing NHGOP chair Steve Stepanek (right), who is joining Trump's campaign as a senior adviser in New Hampshire (Fox News)

He faced plenty of negative reviews by political pundits from the left and the right over his campaign launch, and he’s been criticized for controversial actions and comments he’s made during the past couple of months. In the wake of a lackluster performance by the GOP in the midterm elections — when the party underperformed in what many expected to be a red wave election — Trump has also been blamed for elevating polarizing Republican nominees who ended up losing in November.

DeSantis — who saw his popularity soar among conservatives across the country the past three years, courtesy of his forceful pushback against coronavirus pandemic restrictions and his aggressive actions as a conservative culture warrior, going after media and corporations — built a massive war chest with contributions from across the country as he cruised to a massive re-election victory in November.

While the former president was once the overall front-runner in the early 2024 GOP nomination polls, DeSantis has eclipsed him in some surveys the past couple of months. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, on Key Biscayne, Fla. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, on Key Biscayne, Fla.  (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

DeSantis for over a year routinely dismissed talk of a White House run as he focused on his gubernatorial re-election, but he’s dropped plenty of 2024 hints since his November victory. While sources in DeSantis’ wider orbit say any presidential campaign launch wouldn’t occur until late spring or early summer, after the end of Florida’s currently legislative session, Republican sources confirm to Fox News that the governor’s political team has already started reaching out and identifying operatives for a potential White House run.

"I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over," Trump said of DeSantis late last month, as he referred to his endorsement which helped then-Rep. DeSantis win a competitive GOP gubernatorial primary in 2018 ahead of his general election victory.

And earlier this month Trump took to social media to claim that "The real Ron is a RINO GLOBALIST, who closed quickly down Florida and even its beaches. Loved the Vaccines and wasted big money on ‘Testing.’ How quickly people forget!"

Campaign veterans say that the attacks are a sign of the Florida governor’s heightened national political standing.

"Gov. DeSantis has become the candidate to watch and will all that attention comes scrutiny. The attacks that are ratcheting up are only going to increase as the momentum and buzz continues to grow around him," longtime Republican strategist Colin Reed told Fox News.

And Reed, a veteran of multiple presidential and Senate campaigns, suggested that "the best thing DeSantis can do is keep his head down and continue to do his job, do it well... good policy is good politics."

Haley ready for launch

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration is expected to declare her candidacy for president on Wednesday, joining Trump as the only major Republicans to date to have launched White House campaigns.

Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India who grew up to become South Carolina’s first female governor, has been pushing in recent days towards a late morning event on the February 15 in Charleston.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during former President Donald Trump's administration, speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. 

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during former President Donald Trump's administration, speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.  (Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Haley crisscrossed the country the past two years through her political group Stand for America, helping fellow Republicans running in the 2022 elections. Those travels brought her numerous times to Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, which hold the first, second and fourth contests in the Republican presidential nominating calendar. Haley’s home state of South Carolina votes third in the GOP primary schedule.

After her campaign launch on Wednesday, Haley heads the next day to New Hampshire and then on to Iowa.

Pence returns to Iowa

On the day Haley’s expected to launch her campaign, former Vice President Mike Pence will be in Iowa. Pence, who’s made numerous stops the past two years in Iowa as well as the other early voting states, is likely to launch a presidential campaign in the coming months.

The mission of Pence’s latest trip is to rally conservatives against transgender-affirming polices in schools. He’s stopping in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where a nearby school district allows transgender students to request support to help them socially transition at school, regardless of whether they have parental permission. A public advocacy group aligned with the former vice president will launch ads in the area to coincide with Pence’s trip.

Tim Scott kicking off listening tour

The day after Haley announces in Charleston, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina will be in the coastal city to hold an event that commemorates Black History Month. 

The following week, as Fox News first reported,Scott will travel to Des Moines, Iowa to deliver remarks on the importance of faith in America, and later headline a major GOP fundraising dinner.

The trip kicks off a "faith in America" listening tour by Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and a rising star in the GOP. Pundits view Scott as a potential presidential candidate.

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