Tallahassee, Florida (AP) — When launching the campaign to become Governor of Florida in January 2018, few expected Ron DeSantis to win the toughest political battlefield in the United States.
The 39-year-old lawmaker was little known outside the Daytona Beach area. He lacked the professional staff and funding skills normally needed to compete in such a large state. And he confronted a more established rival for the Republican nomination.
But on his side, Desantis was an important ally with a strong connection to state politics and the respect of the White House. Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is currently involved in a federal sexual trafficking investigation. Gates appeared in an election campaign event with DeSantis, playing Democratic rival Andrew Gillum in preparation for a mock debate and urging then-President Donald Trump to support DeSantis for the governor.
At the suspension of a campaign in Navarra, Florida, Gates jokingly called Desantis the “Batman” of his “Robin.”
There is no sign that Desantis is tied to Gates’ federal investigation. Gates has also captured several other prominent figures in Florida Republican politics. However, this investigation could trigger a new scrutiny of their political partnership and be the responsibility of Desantis to run for re-election prior to the 2024 presidential election.
The Associated Press spoke with nearly 12 people who directly knew how the DeSantis-Gaetz relationship had evolved in recent years. Many of them discussed personal conversations and observations on condition of anonymity. They explain the friendship of political convenience between two young and ambitious Republicans who are eager to stand up in a party that was soon redefined by Trump.
Gates served as an informal political adviser to DeSantis. But as Desantis became a more veteran politician, people said the bond changed.
“When Ron was first elected governor, he had no experience in Tallahassee and Mr. Gates had experience, so when he first got there, he relied on Mr. Gates for his knowledge of Tallahassee. Was, “said the Republican Party in Florida. “After Ron stepped under him in Tallahassee, all they had in common was Mr. Trump and their support for conservative principles. Other than that, about the interaction between the two. I don’t know at all. “
Government agencies are investigating whether Gates had sex with a 17-year-old girl and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the investigation told AP. .. No charges have been filed, and Gates has violently denied the claim. The governor has not been accused of cheating.
Still, the investigation may be approaching discomfort in the governor’s office. In addition to Gates himself, influential Florida politicians under federal oversight include hand surgeon and Desantis campaign donor Jason Pilozolo and former top of the state who is Desantis’ political appointee. Includes business regulator Halcy Beshares.
Asked specifically whether Desantis or his staff were asked as part of the investigation, Governor spokesman Meredith Beatrice said: “This is an ongoing DOJ investigation. No comments.”
DeSantis and Gates temporarily overlapped in Congress. They were more frequent regulars on Fox News, where Gates was a regular guest and Desantis used the flood of emergence to gain momentum in the governor’s race.
Their Fox News appearances also helped Desantis ride Trump’s radar. Gates was one of the Republicans who built on that growing profile and encouraged Trump to support Desantis in the GOP primary. Trump’s ultimate support has unleashed a flood of funding that has led DeSantis on the path to victory.
Throughout the campaign, Gates was steadily present. He was one of the people on stage with Desantis when he was declared the winner of the governor’s race.
After the victory, Gates was one of the only four chairs to lead the Desantis transition team and was currently the only civil servant elected. After spending six years in the Florida Parliament, Gates appeared with him in public, advising on recruitment and policy-making in the governor’s election.
And when Desantis began to fill his administration, he tapped Gates’ father, former Florida Senator Don Gates, to serve on the Transition Advisory Board on Education and Workforce Development.
The governor and members of the House of Representatives were politically intimate, but they were in very different places in their private lives. Desantis was married to young children. Gates was single.
As Desantis settled in the governor’s office, modest signs of tension began to appear.
One problem was Gates’ habit of appearing at Republican political events, often with different women, dressed as if they were going to a night club. Critics personally suggested that Gates behaved like a “boy of fraternity.” Casey DeSantis, wife of Desantis, one of the closest political advisers to the governor, was also calm to Gates.
Trump, which continues to be very popular among many Republican voters, can have a significant impact on each person’s political future. The former president is said to like Gates and Desantis, but recently he has been working more publicly with the governor.
During the weekend, Desantis was the only presidential candidate invited to share the stage with Trump at a private donor reception at Mar-a-Lago. Gates has not attended the event, which was the party’s largest formal gathering since Trump resigned.
As the investigation progresses, DeSantis is taking steps to reach a higher position. He recently hired a veteran Republican consultant, Philcox, to lead the re-election team as part of an important political expansion. The team has been focused on his 2022 re-election so far, but allies have personally acknowledged that next year’s powerful show will put DeSantis in a strong position in the 2024 presidential election.
Gates, meanwhile, keeps an eye on DeSantis’ political ambitions, whether or not Desantis wants him.
Even when investigators were investigating his activities this spring, Gates issued three separate press releases from his parliamentary office promoting Desantis.
“He could be a strong presidential candidate in 2024,” Gates told Fox News, according to one of the official press releases. “Because the Biden team knows that, they know that there is a lot of Florida envy right now across the United States, so they are somehow trying to put a strain on the Florida experience.”