Pandemic becomes politically fraught for Florida governor

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, arrives for a roundtable discussion with Miami-Dade County mayors during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The coronavirus pandemic has become politically fraught for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as evidenced by a polished two-minute video released on social media this week that had the sheen of a political campaign ad aimed at burnishing his image.

In recent weeks, the governor’s leadership has come under question — not just by Democrats but some members of his own party — as Floridians grow frustrated over job losses, the debate over reopening schools and the state's spike in COVID-19 cases.

DeSantis, a political protege of President Donald Trump, has been considered a rising star in national politics. He's been touted as a possible Republican contender for the White House in 2024, but national scrutiny over his handling of Florida's coronavirus outbreak has tarnished that image.

The recent video, which features mayors applauding DeSantis' handling of the pandemic, "is an indication of how much pressure he feels and how uncomfortable he and his people are with where they are with public opinion,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Republican strategist who has since left the party because of his dislike of Trump's performance as president.

A recent Fox News poll showed DeSantis' approval rating sliding to 53%, a six-point drop from April. The percentage of Floridians who viewed him unfavorably, meanwhile, grew from 33% in April to 40% last month.

DeSantis' promotional video debuted on the same day that one of his key image makers, Communications Director Helen Ferre, was named executive director of the Florida Republican Party and given a new mandate: to deliver Florida for Trump in November.

Ferre had been the governor's chief spokesperson since he took office in January of last year, and for much of 2019 his popularity remained extremely high.

Things took a turn four months ago, when the pandemic prompted the governor to close schools, bars and nightclubs, and place severe limitations on restaurants and other public establishments. As the shutdowns spiked Florida's unemployment in April, benefits-seekers experienced long delays because of glitches in the state's unemployment website, leading to widespread frustration.