DeSantis woos conservative members of Congress as Trump racks up endorsements

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(WASHINGTON) — Republican members of Congress are getting caught up in the feud between former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with many members of the Florida congressional delegation saying Trump is the man best suited to help the party win back the White House in 2024.

Trump, who is running for the GOP nomination for a third time, and DeSantis, who is expected to announce a presidential run following the Florida legislative session, are ramping up efforts to shore up support from members of Congress.

But so far, Trump is winning.

Of the 53 current GOP representatives who have endorsed a candidate in the 2024 Republican primary, 45 have thrown their support behind Trump — with nine of the 20 GOP members of the Florida delegation backing him over their own governor. Florida Reps. Matt Gaetz, Byron Donalds, Anna Paulina Luna, Greg Stuebe, John Rutherford, Cory Mills and Brian Mast have all endorsed Trump. On Wednesday, Trump also touted the endorsements of Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Carlos Gimenez in a fundraising email.

Stuebe’s explanation for his decision touched on concerns some Republicans have had about DeSantis’ interpersonal skills. He told Politico in an interview that DeSantis never reached out to him during his five years in Congress or responded to his multiple attempts to connect.

He recalled a news conference on the damage caused by Hurricane Ian where the governor’s team invited him to stand with DeSantis but also told him he wouldn’t be a part of the event when he arrived.

Stuebe contrasted that with a call he said he received from Trump while he was in the ICU from injuries he sustained in January falling off his ladder.

“To this day, I have not heard from Gov. DeSantis,” Steube said to Politico.

Trump scored additional congressional endorsements in the hours leading up to DeSantis’ event in Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening where DeSantis welcomed members of Congress at a meet-and-greet event.

Gooden notably announced his endorsement of Trump just after meeting with the governor at his event, saying in a statement that he respected what DeSantis has done in Florida but believes that “Trump’s proven track record and commitment to putting America first make him the best candidate in 2024.”

So far, only one member of the Florida delegation — Rep. Laurel Lee, DeSantis’ former secretary of state — has endorsed DeSantis, who has not officially declared his candidacy for president.

“As Ron DeSantis Secretary of State, I had the honor of witnessing firsthand his unparalleled leadership under leadership under pressure, his chapter and his commitment to core conservative principles,” Lee said in a statement.

“It was my honor to serve in his administration and it is my honor today to endorse him for president of the United States,” she added.

DeSantis has attracted broad support from members of Congress who have not yet made endorsements. GOP Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, who attended DeSantis’ event in DC, told reporters he calls DeSantis “America’s governor” and said that he was responsible for turning Florida from a swing state to a red state.

But not all members of the Sunshine State’s congressional delegation are making endorsements, choosing instead to stay neutral.

When asked about DeSantis and Trump — both Florida residents — Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., told reporters, “The next president will come from the great state of Florida.”

An aide for Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., told ABC News that Dunn would support “whatever the party decides” regarding the GOP presidential nominee.

Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, who attended DeSantis’ D.C. event, also stayed neutral when asked about the 2024 primary, saying he would not make endorsements before the general election in November 2024.

“I just want to beat Democrats,” Crenshaw said. “It shouldn’t be that hard to beat Biden’s record.”

Although DeSantis has not officially announced a run for president, three members of Congress have already endorsed him, including Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who also attended the event with DeSantis.

When asked by ABC News what it meant for DeSantis that more members of the Florida delegation were endorsing Trump, Roy said that Trump as the former president is going to get a lot of support, but added DeSantis also has support from people who have publicly backed Trump.

ABC News reached out to a representative for DeSantis but has not heard back.

Trump is the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, but it’s still early in the primary calendar. Other declared candidates so far include former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson and former Mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, Steve Laffey.

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