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Politics

Ron DeSantis Has Choices to Make as GOP Special Election Primary Kicks Off

November 13, 2014 - 6:00pm

Ron DeSantis is a rising star for Florida Republicans but he could be facing something of a headache in the days ahead.

Having won a second term in Congress on Election Day, DeSantis looks like a conservative force for years to come. DeSantis has clearly discarded the old congressional rule demanding junior members should be seen and not heard. Almost every week he can be seen on national cable talk shows, pounding away at Lois Lerner, Eric Holder and Obamacare.

Only 36, DeSantis has already made something of an impression as he wraps up his first term and hes increasingly one of the leading conservatives on the House Judiciary Committee. The former Navy officer who went to Yale as an undergrad and then Harvard law is moving quickly up the Republican ladder after emerging in 2012 to defeat a crowd of opponents in the primary, then besting Democrat Heather Beaven in the general election. It looks like DeSantis will be in the mix for statewide office in the years to come, either as a U.S. Senate candidate or, if he turns his eyes to Tallahassee, he has the background to be a contender for attorney general.

But DeSantis has some decisions to make closer to home. Earlier this year, in a hotly contested Republican primary for a Florida House seat, DeSantis backed fellow Navy veteran Paul Renner over Jay Fant. Renner lost out to Fant by two votes. Renner is back, running in a special election for the Florida House seat vacated by Travis Hutson.

Fant beat out Renner for a House seat representing the western part of Duval County. Now Renner has set his eyes on a seat containing all of Flagler County and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties -- not exactly the west side of Jacksonville. Add into consideration a number of conservative candidates looking at running or already in the mix -- including Flagler County GOP leader Dave Sullivan and Donald OBrien with the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce -- and DeSantis could face some criticism if he backs Renner again after he dropped into the district to run for the House seat.

DeSantis also could get stung in two other special elections. Hutson is going to tangle with Doc Renuart for John Thrashers old Florida Senate seat. This one could get ugly, especially as both candidates try to argue they are the real conservative. There is also a three-candidate battle shaping up for the House seat Renuart is giving up to run for the Senate.

In short, DeSantis will be on stage even if hes not in the spotlight. DeSantis can endorse candidates and show he has the stature to deliver wins in his backyard, something Republicans will keep in mind if he aims for higher office. But if DeSantis cant deliver in his own district, other Republicans will be taking notes.

DeSantis will be put to the test this special election -- especially if he backs an outsider to the district like Renner.Its one of the smaller dramas of the upcoming special election but one that could have some major consequences down the road.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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