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Trump Launches Charm Offensive in Bid for Florida Republicans

Former President Donald Trump is wooing Florida Republicans before and after this weekend’s big Republican gathering in Central Florida — his latest move to undercut Ron DeSantis in the governor’s own state.

DeSantis and Trump will join other GOP presidential candidates and top Florida Republicans speaking at the state GOP’s Freedom Summit in Kissimmee Saturday. Trump, who’s still dominating the polls in early states and nationally, will close out the event while DeSantis will deliver a speech earlier in the day.

Trump’s team in recent days has been trying to shore up support among the Sunshine State’s key Republicans. He sent invitations to local party leaders to join him at a rally in Hialeah scheduled for Nov. 8 — the same day as the Republican debate next week in Miami that he refused to attend.

To entice the invitees, Trump is offering them “special guest seating” and “expedited entry” to the rally, which will be held at a stadium, and attendees can bring a guest to the event in Hialeah, a Hispanic-majority Miami neighborhood, according to an invitation viewed by Playbook. The passes will give guests a way to skip long lines and offer better seating at the event.

Then, the evening after the GOP debate, Trump is hosting Republican leaders from Florida’s 67 counties at Mar-a-Lago. He’s invited at least 200 party officials — each with a guest — to his resort for a “meet-and-greet opportunity.” Light food and drinks are expected to be served, and Trump is scheduled to speak, said three Republican invitees to the event who plan to attend. They were granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation.

“It’s important to get people together in a room so they feel appreciated,” said one Florida Republican invited to both the rally and the Mar-a-Lago event, who called next week’s events a “smart side-by-side.”

While Trump has the backing of most of Florida’s GOP congressional delegation, DeSantis has more support from Republican members of the state Legislature. But even that could change. NBC News this week reported that Trump’s allies are actively trying to convince Republican legislators who endorsed DeSantis to withdraw their support and back Trump.

At least one former DeSantis ally has flipped. Rep. Randy Fine, Florida’s only Republican Jewish state lawmaker, last week changed his endorsement from DeSantis to Trump, claiming that the governor hadn’t done enough to counter antisemitism.

Yesterday, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) also endorsed Trump, though that’s less surprising since the senator is an ally of the former president and has long had poor relations with DeSantis. Scott’s endorsement was first reported by The Messenger. Both Fine and Scott will be speaking at Saturday’s Freedom Summit.

Andrew Romeo, DeSantis’ campaign spokesperson, pushed back on Trump’s effort, noting that the governor has more endorsements from state legislators than the former president in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But it’s hard to ignore how Trump’s influence in the state is reshaping the presidential race. In September, officials with the Republican Party of Florida voted to remove a provision in state bylaws that required any candidate seeking to be included on the March 19 presidential primary ballot to vow loyalty to the eventual nominee.

The vote was seen as a victory for Trump, whose allies had pressed state Republicans to rescind the pledge. It was one of the clearest signs yet of DeSantis’ waning clout amid his struggles on the campaign trail.