On her way Thursday morning to meet with the Ron DeSantis gubernatorial campaign in Orlando, Republican strategist Susie Wiles said she was ready to dive in a day after the former North Florida congressman asked her to join.
“This campaign is focused on the candidate and what he stands for and how he is going to energize voters to support him in November,” Wiles said.
The request by DeSantis, a Republican, came in the wake of sinking poll numbers in his race against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, according to our partner, the Jacksonville Daily Record.
“I strongly believe the Rick Scott legacy should be continued,” Wiles said. “The prosperity and the good things we’ve seen over the last eight years needs to continue.”
Wiles managed the first gubernatorial campaign for businessman Rick Scott, who was a relatively unknown candidate when he won in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014.
Wiles also co-chaired President Donald Trump’s successful campaign in Florida.
Previously, she served as chief of communications for former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton and as chief of staff for former Mayor John Delaney.
Wiles is a lobbyist with Ballard Partners, a Tallahassee lobbying firm.
She said Thursday she was not previously involved in the DeSantis campaign, although she is a supporter.
She noted his connections and shared positions with the president and her familiarity with him and his family as reasons for joining his team. Trump endorsed DeSantis in the Republican primary.
DeSantis, 40, resigned from Congress this month to pursue the governor’s mansion after beating Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican primary election.
While he easily beat Putnam, DeSantis could face a stiffer challenge against 39-year-old Gillum, a progressive Democrat, according to several polls released in the past week.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 26 gives Gillum a 9-point lead, with strong support from women, African-Americans, Hispanic and independent voters in addition to registered Democrats.
An NBC News/Marist poll released Sept. 25 gives Gillum a 5-point edge over DeSantis, although the poll’s margin of error is a plus or minus 5 percentage points.
“Every campaign has challenges every day, and every day it's rarely the same challenge,” said Wiles, who categorized polls as “interesting and important to voters to a certain extent.”
“The most important poll is the one on Election Day,” she said.
With five weeks before the Nov. 6 general election, Wiles said the campaign’s mission is clear.
“We need to focus on making sure the people know what our candidate stands for and why he’s the best fit for the state,” she said. “Why it’s important to continue the success started under Rick Scott.”
The DeSantis ticket is criticized for a perceived lack of detail about his platform and specific positions on Florida issues. He touched on some of his beliefs during a Tampa Bay Times interview published Sept. 20.
In that interview, DeSantis dismissed a recurring theme that his campaign has close ties to some of the extreme, racist and conspiracy-woven wings of the GOP.
“It’s not true,” he told the Times.
He blamed his opponents for the reports.
“They got nothing on me, so they're trying to slime me with some type of guilt by association, which is kind of warmed over McCarthyism to try to further a narrative that's not supported by the facts,” DeSantis told the Times.
DeSantis referred to a Sept. 9 report in The Washington Post that detailed his multiple speaking engagements at the David Horowitz Freedom Center Conference in Palm Beach.
The conference has featured speakers who espouse controversial and sometimes racist views.
“I wish that kind of distraction wasn’t out there, but that happens and so you have to get out and explain the relationship, even if one doesn’t exist,” Wiles said.
She said that campaigns don’t choose every volunteer or supporter and that Florida’s 19 million voters have their individual opinions.
“Someone who came to a fundraiser one time a few months ago, who three years ago had a tweet that referenced someone that’s twice removed from this person is not something we’re focused on,” she said.
Some categorize Wiles late addition to the campaign as a panic move for DeSantis, which she said was laughable.
“This campaign staff works very hard, they’re very good at what they do and they’re devoted to getting the congressman over the edge,” she said. “I’m here to help get them over the finish line.”
Although Wiles declined to offer an opinion of the Gillum campaign, she said she has watched it with interest.
Wiles said to expect the DeSantis campaign to provide better exposure to what she referred to as the ticket’s “secret sauce,” state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, his candidate for lieutenant governor.
“She’s a dynamic legislator from South Florida who is accomplished, a dynamo and someone I think the voters in North Florida want to learn more about.”