COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis canceled a day of presidential campaign appearances to deal with crises at home as his state mourns a racist fatal shooting in Jacksonville and prepares for a tropical storm.
A day after appearing in Iowa, DeSantis was back in the state capital of Tallahassee on Sunday for a news conference on Tropical Storm Idalia. He urged Floridians to heed the advice of emergency managers. He also offered condolences and condemned the killing of three Black people by a white man who authorities say left behind a suicide note, a will, and writings with racist material.
Later Sunday, DeSantis appeared at a vigil outside the Jacksonville store where the shootings occurred. The Republican governor, who was met with boos when he briefly addressed the crowd, called the gunman a “scumbag” and said there was no tolerance for racist violence in Florida.
DeSantis’ campaign schedule had called for him to be in South Carolina Monday for a morning town hall in Kershaw and a barbecue with Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., in Anderson. But Sunday night, his campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin announced the governor was canceling his South Carolina travel. His wife, Casey DeSantis, is still expected to appear at the barbecue but the town hall in Kershaw was canceled.
“In light of the approaching hurricane, the Governor will be staying in Florida on Monday to assist with preparations,” Griffin said.
Asked at his Sunday news conference whether he would be in Florida this week, Ron DeSantis responded, “I’m here. I’m here.”
“We’re locked in on this; we’re going to get the job done. This is important. So people can rest assured,” the governor said, adding that the state is staging personnel and equipment to prepare for the storm.
Duncan said in a statement that he was excited to have the first lady of Florida speak on behalf of DeSantis at the event expected to draw more than 2,000 people.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Florida and Ron as they prepare for this storm,” Duncan said.
DeSantis has stumbled on the national stage since beginning his presidential campaign earlier this year and has at times struggled to connect with voters. He returned to Florida from Iowa, where he is campaigning extensively and hoping for a strong showing in the state’s leadoff caucuses. He remains in a distant second place behind former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
The storm is pointed toward Florida as the nation tries to make sense of another mass shooting Saturday, this time at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, where a 21-year-old white man fatally shot three Black people. Federal authorities are investigating the attack as a hate crime.
“Perpetrating violence of this kind is unacceptable, and targeting people due to their race has no place in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis' policies around race and race-related teaching have been a flashpoint in his time as governor.
In July, DeSantis faced criticism for his defense of new public school curriculum on Black history in Florida, which specified that teachers were required to instruct middle-school students that enslaved people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
DeSantis said his critics intentionally misrepresented one line of the sweeping curriculum, but it and his defense drew blowback from Florida teachers, civil rights leaders, the Biden White House and some Black Republicans, including Florida Rep. Byron Donalds and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is running against DeSantis for the GOP nomination.
As governor, DeSantis has also banned critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism, from Florida classrooms and worked to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in schools.
At the vigil in Jacksonville on Sunday, Democratic City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman, who represents the neighborhood where the shooting happened, addressed DeSantis personally during her remarks.
“Governor, I know you’re here,” Pittman said. “And you know what? I’m glad you’re here, because you can see the people and the impact it’s had on the community.”
A man somewhere in the crowd shouted: “He don’t care!”
As DeSantis got up to speak, he was met with boos from the crowd of about 200 people.
Pittman took the microphone and asked people to listen to him, saying, “It ain’t about parties today. A bullet don’t know a party.”
DeSantis, in his brief remarks, called the gunman a “major league scumbag.”
“What he did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race.”
Later at the vigil, the Rev. Jeffrey Rumlin, pastor of The Dayspring Church in Jacksonville, addressed DeSantis' remarks.
“Respectfully, governor, he was not a scumbag,” Rumlin said of the gunman. “He was a racist.”
His remark got a loud cheer from the crowd.
Cooper reported from Phoenix. Associated Press reporter Russ Bynum in Jacksonville, Florida