TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — With the backing of President Donald Trump and more than 100 appearances on Fox News under his belt, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis sailed to victory in Florida's Republican primary for governor Tuesday, defeating a longtime favorite of the GOP establishment with a campaign based largely around the president.
DeSantis beat out Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who had seemingly built up the run for governor his entire adult life after being elected to office as a 22-year-old.
DeSantis was first elected to Congress in 2012, running as a Washington outsider. His television ads were Trump-focused, including one where his toddler stacks bricks while DeSantis exclaims, "Build the wall!"
The strategy worked, and many voters say that's what convinced them to support DeSantis.
Sharon Grant said she was planning to vote for Putnam — until Trump weighed in on the race.
"I changed my vote when Trump supported DeSantis," said the 67-year-old retiree from Pinellas County. "I also loved his commercial, the one with the kids."
Josie Parke, 68, an interior designer in Coral Gables, said Trump's backing swayed her vote for DeSantis, too.
"I believe in Trump's policies and while I don't love the way he opens his mouth too much, sometimes saying things that are not quite appropriate, I do believe that in his heart he really means well. He's doing things the way I like," Parke said.
DeSantis entered the race a month after Trump's December tweeted that he would make "a GREAT governor." Later Trump held a rally for him in Tampa. Suddenly, he was considered the favorite over Putnam, who raised more money, campaigned longer, built support among the party establishment and ran a traditional grassroots campaign.
DeSantis, who turns 40 next month, is a former Navy lawyer. He also ran for Senate in 2016 but dropped out when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio shut down his presidential campaign and decided to run for re-election.
Supporters at DeSantis' party in Orlando chanted "Ron! Ron! Ron!" when he was declared the GOP nominee Tuesday evening.
Putnam was elected to the state House in 1996, to the U.S. House in 2000 and to his current job in 2010. He had become one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress before deciding to run for agriculture commissioner.
DeSantis will now face the Democratic nominee to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who can't run for re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott had an easy win in Tuesday's GOP primary, and now he heads into an increasingly bitter — and expensive — showdown with Nelson that could play a decisive role in which party controls the Senate.
Facing off in the Democratic gubernatorial primary were former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire Jeff Greene, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.
Graham seeks to become Florida's first female governor and to take the seat her father, Bob Graham, held from 1979 to 1987.
Voters are also picking the nominees for two Cabinet positions and several congressional seats.
AP writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg and Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.