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DeSantis meets NH lawmakers, greets voters ahead of 2024 announcement

Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks with patrons at the Red Arrow Diner during a visit to Manchester, N.H., Friday, May 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Chatting with a mom in a New Hampshire diner on Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis paid no attention to the Mickey Mouse shirt worn by her young son. But the woman said she has been paying attention to him.

"If DeSantis announced a campaign to run for president I would probably vote for him over anybody else," Jillian Sybert, of Deerfield, said later.

DeSantis made the swing to the early voting state as he prepares to launch a 2024 Republican presidential campaign. He spent the morning meeting with state GOP lawmakers still licking their wounds a day after the New Hampshire House rejected a bill that would have required school officials to inform inquiring parents if their child was using a different name or being referred to as a different gender.

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Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the 400-member House, but Democrats had a one-vote edge in attendance for Thursday's session.

In contrast, GOP supermajorities in the Florida Statehouse have helped DeSantis push through an aggressive agenda on multiple fronts, including gender identity, and he has made anti-LGBTQ+ legislation a large part of his messaging as he prepares to seek the Republican presidential nomination. He signed bills Wednesday that ban gender-affirming care for minors, target drag shows, restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools and force people to use certain bathrooms.

"We just completed what I would say is the boldest and most far-reaching agenda that we've seen in the modern history of the Republican Party," DeSantis told about 30 New Hampshire lawmakers in Bedford.

Ron DeSantis in Manchester, NH
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks with a customer at the Red Arrow Diner during a visit to Manchester, NH, Friday, May 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Their ensuing discussion was closed to the media, but one attendee said he thinks the defeat will motivate Republicans to back DeSantis.

"We really need to push back, because that's a big issue, and DeSantis is for it," said state Rep. Ralph Boehm. The lawmaker said he also is a fan of former President Donald Trump but doesn't think Trump will be able to overcome the "lies" that Boehm said are spread about him by the media.

"DeSantis, with what he's done in Florida, is what we need for this country," he said.

It remains to be seen how DeSantis will fare in New Hampshire, where independents can vote in the Republican primary and voters are accustomed to questioning candidates at town hall forums and other events. Trump won the GOP primary in both 2016 and 2020 but twice lost the state in the general election.

DeSantis later stopped by the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, a popular destination for presidential candidates. He briefly chatted with Sybert, who was having breakfast with her two young sons. If he noticed one of the boys was wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, he didn't show it, she said.

Disney and DeSantis have been engaged in a tug-of-war for more than a year after the company opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.

Sybert, of Deerfield, said she considers herself an independent voter and would probably back DeSantis if he gets in the race because of his "stance on freedom." She said she was disappointed about the failed state legislation and hopes the next president will champion the issue.

"New Hampshire is good in a lot of ways but it could be better, and it would be nice to see that at the federal level as well," she said.

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