Gov. DeSantis bests Trump in early 2024 presidential straw poll

President Donald Trump speaks with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he arrives at Southwest Florida International Airport, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Western Conservative Summit, an annual gathering of conservatives in Denver, was a scaled-back event this year, but that didn’t stop it from making headlines on Monday.

In a straw poll conducted at the summit, 371 attendees were asked who they would vote for in the 2024 presidential election, and out of 31 potential Republican and Democratic candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finished at the top.

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“The poll is significant in this sense. It confirms what many already believe, and that is Ron DeSantis is very formidable for the Republican nomination in 2024. That’s particularly true if Donald Trump does not run,” said News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney.

When asked to vote for all candidates they approved of for president in 2024, DeSantis beat out former President Donald Trump, getting 74% approval to Trump’s 71%. (It’s worth noting that participants were able to vote for multiple people they approved of.)

The two finished far ahead of third-place U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (43%).

“I think the results of this poll aren’t surprising. You do expect that Val Demings will be the nominee. And at this point, a long way out, Marco Rubio clearly has the inside track to returning to the Senate,” Mullaney said.

Although there is still a long way to go until the 2024 presidential race kicks off, the poll backs up the belief by some that DeSantis can be a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination.

DeSantis also finished first in a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2024 straw poll covering a field of potential candidates that did not include Trump, who still carries political power in the Republican Party and could potentially run for the office a third time three years from now. DeSantis has been a close ally of Trump and supported him during a failed re-election bid in 2020.

DeSantis’ national profile has been on the rise in recent months with multiple appearances on Fox News as he has taken on hot-button issues like Big Tech, critical race theory, transgender athletes, the rights of protesters and voting rights.

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

For now, DeSantis has not made his 2024 intentions clear and is focusing on getting re-elected in Florida next year.

He will face challenges from former Florida governor and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist as well as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, both Democrats.

Fried is convinced DeSantis will run.

She is telling voters to choose her because DeSantis will spend the first two years of a second term running for president.

“He’ll be running around the country trying to get the nomination and then, if he were to be successful, he’d be leaving halfway through his four-year term, so not a single day he would be serving as governor in the second term,” Fried said.

Any plans DeSantis or other Republicans have for seeking the presidency will remain in limbo until Trump makes his final decision.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.