Supporters of gubernatorial hopeful DeSantis pack event in The Villages

On the eve of his rally in Tampa with the president, Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Congressman Ron DeSantis brought his campaign to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown and had members of Villagers for Trump on their feet cheering loudly.

Congressman Ron DeSantis, who hopes to win the GOP nomination for the Florida governor’s race over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, addresses a capacity crowd at the Laurel Manor Recreation Center on Monday night.

Throughout his 20-minute speech, DeSantis hit on a variety of points centered around conservative values that brought rounds of applause from the crowd of close to 400 people who attended the rally at the Laurel Manor Recreation Center.

Casey DeSantis, an Emmy-winning television host, introduces her husband, GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, at the Villagers for Trump rally Monday night.

“This is a great place to be, particularly for a Republican” he said of The Villages, a place he’s visited in the past. “There’s probably not any other place you could get hundreds of people to show up on a normal night.”

DeSantis will appear with President Trump Tuesday night at the Florida State Fairgrounds as the president makes a stop in Tampa to tout job growth and the importance of Floridians getting out to vote this fall. Trump has endorsed DeSantis over Adam Putnam, the state’s commissioner of agriculture – a move that clearly has made a difference in polling numbers in recent days.

It’s an endorsement that DeSantis said he’s thrilled to have.

“He doesn’t get involved in a lot of races but I think this was one where he was impressed with my leadership ability,” DeSantis said. “Florida is his second home, so I think it’s a state that matters a lot to him.”

As for the rally in Tampa, DeSantis said he’s excited about speaking in front of a much larger crowd – 15,000-plus people – than he’s used to addressing.

“That’s just a whole different level when you’re doing that,” he said. “It will be covered nationally and I’ll get to go up there and say a few things. So it will be a great opportunity.”

A crowd of close to 400 people turned out Monday night at the Laurel Manor Recreation Center to hear GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ron DeSantis speak.

Some might have considered Monday night’s speech in The Villages a warmup of sorts for the Tampa rally. DeSantis told an audience filled with veterans that he’s proud to be one of them, having served on active duty in the Navy. And he said he’s the only gubernatorial candidate who has a demonstrated record of standing for conservative principles, exercising leadership and fighting to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.

As governor, DeSantis, said one of his biggest accomplishments would be changing the face of the Florida Supreme Court, as three liberal judges are set to retire when Gov. Rick Scott’s term ends.

Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Mike McCalister, a retired Army colonel, businessman and university instructor, gives a rousing speech Monday night that earned him a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

“On Day One, we’ll be able to make three nominations to the state Supreme Court,” he said. “(We’ll be) replacing liberal justices with constitutionalists who understand the proper role of the court is to apply the law and Constitution as it’s actually written.”

Congressman Daniel Webster addresses the audience about happenings in Washington, D.C., and some of the attacks President Trump faces.

Those appointments will prove to be a game-changer for the state, DeSantis promised.

“Once you do that, you’ve ended judicial activism in Florida for a generation,” he said. “That’s a huge deal.”

DeSantis said he’s also working hard to help Trump conquer illegal immigration.

“As governor, we will not allow any sanctuary cities in Florida,” he said, adding that he’s also a proponent of E-Verify, a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

DeSantis said his opponent was against E-Verify and when he was in Congress once voted “with Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters” against authorizing troops to help secure the southern border.

“Why would you vote against that?” he asked. “I think because of the cheap labor.”

Brett Hage, a seventh-generation Floridian who is running for the Florida House District 33 seat, tells the audience he believes in conservative values and wants their support to win the seat in November.

DeSantis said Putman, who is no stranger to The Villages, also endorsed the Obama-Schumer Gang of Eight Immigration Amnesty.

“That was a disastrous bill,” he said. “It would have been a huge incentive for future waves of illegal immigration. It would have lowered wages for American workers, including blue collar workers here in Florida.”

In other words, DeSantis said, don’t count on Putnam taking a hard stand on sanctuary cities.

“That would be like expecting the fox to guard the henhouse,” he said.

Conary Bullard and Stan Swies, as Donald Trump, listen to the speakers at the Villagers for Trump rally Monday night.

DeSantis said he’s also in favor of a fair tax, which would replace all federal income taxes, payroll taxes, gift taxes and estate taxes with a single, board national consumption tax on retail sales. But he said Putnam, a favorite among Villages Republicans, feels differently.

“He’s running an ad criticizing me for wanting to get the rid of the IRS, for wanting to get rid of the income tax, for wanting to go to a system that would actually be fair,” he said. “Why would he do that? Because he’s losing the race and he is desperate. And a fair tax would put all of his lobbyist buddies out of work. He can’t have that, because that’s how he gets a lot of his money.”

Finally, DeSantis said it’s important to elect a leader as the state’s next governor.

Wildwood City Commission candidate and 2009 Villages High School graduate Marcos Flores, left, and Al Butler, chairman of the Sumter County Commission, listen to a variety of candidates speak at the Villagers for Trump meeting on Monday night.

“I’ll be somebody that will use my leadership ability and spend political capital in order to deliver for the taxpayers in this state,” he said. “We can do great things if we have that type of mentality and that leadership. I think that separates me from the other folks that are running for the office.”

David Gee, founder of Villagers for Trump, called the event a huge success.

“We really had a lot of energy in the room,” he said. “And I think we had a great lineup of speakers.”

Villagers for Trump members had to bring in more chairs to accommodate the capacity crowd at Laurel Manor Recreation Center.

Gee added that Villagers for Trump members are happy DeSantis came to their meeting and even happier to endorse his candidacy.

“We did a straw poll at our last meeting and we asked the people to stand that were supporting DeSantis and it had to be 90 percent of the room stood,” Gee said. “So clearly, our group being a Trump-type club and aligned through the president is absolutely going to do everything it can to support the candidacy of Ron DeSantis.”