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What Former President Trump's Announcement Means for Citrus County Candidates

Exactly one week after the midterms concluded in Florida, or halfway through the vote counting depending on where you live in the country, former President Donald Trump made his candidacy official as he seeks to win back the office he lost 2 years ago.

The Concurrent has been talking about this across a range of mediums from sending out a push notification Tuesday morning to talking about it on the podcast later that afternoon and even posting a picture, albeit for comedic purposes from the number of phones that were out, from the announcement itself.

Some of you, especially long time readers, might be wondering why a national story is attracting so much of my attention. Until now, the focus has always been hyper local which you probably prefer.

I do too.

The announcement has several implications for local elections however. Let’s start with the most obvious one.

How many Republicans will continue to back Trump? This question is far more complicated in Florida where we have our popular governor who is all but certain to join the race as well. Gov. Ron DeSantis did artfully deflect yesterday saying that, “people just need to chill out a bit” when talking about 2024. He’s right and that’s an excellent Florida Man way of putting it.

But think of how difficult that is to say given the circumstance. DeSantis is coming off a larger than expected margin of victory in an election cycle that saw weaker than expected results from Republicans, including several losses from handpicked Trump candidates.

This electoral momentum, combined with Trump likely being DeSantis’ fiercest competitor entering the race this early, and the Governor’s reaction is to slow things down and keep the attention on the Georgia Senate runoff race.That takes a tremendous amount of confidence.

There’s good reason to have it. Fox News had a headline about DeSantis receiving applause minutes before Trump’s announcement, a story of at best questionable newsworthy value and at worst an outright declaration of the network’s preference. (Editorial Aside: the weirdest headline goes to Politico that described DeSantis’ reaction to the announcement with the man shrugging emoji).

Locally the former president remains tremendously popular however. The Citrus County President Trump Republican Club became Club 45 after the 2020 election cycle and its meetings are regularly as well, if not slightly better, attended than meetings of the established Party.

At the risk of this sounding like this is creating conflict, which is certainly not the case because the Republican Executive Committee (REC - the official Party structure locally) has never been better attended or financially stronger, the organization does have elections next month that will suggest if the county’s most involved Republicans are firmly behind Trump or open to other challengers.

The former president’s early entrance has one other significance for Citrus.

It will likely get 2024 started just as early, which would be the opposite of how 2022 went. With the exception of Diana Finegan who filed in the summer of 2021, no major countywide candidate filed for election until 2022 and several months into the year at that.

School board member-elect Joe Faherty who took the most votes in the primary before winning the November runoff filed in early March and commissioner-elect Rebecca Bays, who had initially entered the state house race, didn’t begin her campaign for county commission until May 12. That’s just 103 days in between entering the race and the election as opposed to the over 600 days that lie between Tuesday’s Trump announcement and the 2024 primary election. This will undoubtedly draw other candidates into the fold much earlier than we saw last cycle.

We’ve seen this before. Pat Crippen, a 2020 challenger to Sheriff Mike Prendergast, started campaigning before the 2018 primaries had concluded and had blanketed the county in road signs in early 2019. He ultimately took 16.20% of the vote.

Ideally this would not happen. I have called campaign signs trash on sticks although I do think I underestimated their effectiveness this last cycle. But the county deserves a break.

All indicators point to 2024 being a hotly contested primary battle well before even the general election. The longer we can delay that locally across all elections, the more the citizens benefit.

Maybe we can heed our governor, and even as campaigns rage on nationally, all learn to just chill a little.


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