President Trump visits Tampa, rallying support for gubernatorial hopeful DeSantis

Posted at 7:39 PM, Jul 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 22:25:51-04

TAMPA, Fla. — President Donald Trump made a quick stop in Tampa on Tuesday to wade into Florida's internal Republican politics.

Trump held a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in a show of force for Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who faces off against state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the state's Aug. 28 Republican primary.

Trump praised DeSantis as "a tough, brilliant cookie" and predicts: "He's going to be your next governor."

DeSantis also made his pitch to the crowd and thanked Trump for his leadership.

Another Trump ally, Gov. Rick Scott, greeted the president on the tarmac then traveled with him to Tampa Bay Technical High School.  

While there, Trump praised the strength of the economy, telling students and faculty members there was never a better time to learn new skills and gain employment.



Trump pointed to strong economic growth and low unemployment levels. He was joined by Scott, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump and several members of Congress from Florida.

MORE COVERAGE | Trump visits Tampa Bay Tech

PHOTOS | See photos from Trump's visit

Trump held a signing ceremony for a technical education law he signed earlier in the day at the White House. 

He's presenting a copy of the law to the school.

Scott steered clear of the rally at the Fairgrounds as he prepares for the Senate primary. Scott is seeking to defeat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a high-profile Senate race.



A handful of protesters gathered outside the fairgrounds expo hall in Tampa, Florida, to protest President Donald Trump's visit hours before his scheduled arrival.

One protester stopped his rally and was escorted out of the building.




One of the early protesters was Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Florida billionaire Jeff Greene. He parked a bus with the words "Trump's worst nightmare" outside the venue Tuesday, drawing more than a few heckles and taunts.

He says he wants Trump "to see that not everyone believes in what he does here in Florida."

Another protester held a sign showing Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and brought a speaker to play The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." repeatedly.

The song mixed with the taunts from people in cars and a man screaming into a loudspeaker about Jesus.

Nearby, two men held a large Confederate flag.





President Donald Trump compared himself to an icon of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln.

Trump asserted Tuesday night that he's the most popular person in the Republican Party.

He told supporters that he can be "more presidential than any president in history," except for Lincoln, "with that big hat." The president is joking that "Abe Lincoln is tough."

The president has claimed in recent days that he has higher poll numbers than Lincoln. But he doesn't mention that there were no scientific opinion polls in the 1860s when Lincoln was president.





DeSantis has tied his campaign for governor directly to Trump, appearing on Fox News more than 100 times to talk about federal issues and defend the president. DeSantis has campaigned with Fox's Sean Hannity and Donald Trump Jr. and uses humor in a new ad to show his alliance with the president, teaching one of his two children to "build the wall" with blocks.

Putnam, a state agriculture commissioner and former congressman, has run a more traditional campaign for governor, barnstorming the state with campaign events aimed at building upon his family's deep ties to the state.

Florida represented a crucial triumph for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and the president has maintained a steady presence in the state, returning frequently to his winter home in Palm Beach.