For the first time since declaring his bid for the Republican nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is facing a crisis in his home state.
Well, not one crisis, but two.
On Saturday, a gunman motivated by racial hatred killed three people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville. All the victims were Black. The shooter was white. And on Wednesday, a major storm is projected to strike somewhere along Florida’s Gulf coast, the first to hit the state during the 2023 hurricane season.
After the shooting, Mr. DeSantis flew back to Tallahassee from a campaign trip to Iowa. He then canceled a visit to South Carolina scheduled for Monday, citing the storm and sending his wife, Casey DeSantis, in his place. He has said he will stay in Florida for the storm’s duration and aftermath.
“This is going to be our sole focus,” Mr. DeSantis said on Monday at a news conference at the state’s emergency operation center in Tallahassee.
The twin crises provide the most serious tests of Mr. DeSantis’s leadership since he began running for president in May. On the stump, he often cites his track record as governor as his biggest advantage over his rivals, almost none of whom hold executive office. He has also criticized President Biden for his response to the wildfires that devastated Maui.
But the emergencies have pulled Mr. DeSantis off the trail at a time when his campaign had seemed to stabilize after weeks of layoffs and upheaval among his staff, as well as a debate performance that drew strong reviews from many Republican voters.
Both the shooting and the storm could further spotlight criticisms that rival candidates have made of Mr. DeSantis’s stewardship of Florida since being elected as governor in 2018. After clashes on a number of race-related issues, including the way African American history is taught in schools, his relationship with Florida’s Black community is so strained that he was loudly booed when he appeared at a vigil for the shooting victims in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Mr. DeSantis has also struggled with the state’s property insurance market, a long-running problem that the governor has repeatedly tried to address with legislation. The market has been so battered by high costs that Mr. DeSantis said in July that he would “knock on wood” for no big storm to hit Florida this year.
Mr. DeSantis’s opponents, including former President Donald J. Trump and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, have used the issues to criticize him.
A spokesman for the DeSantis campaign said the governor’s response to the shooting and the storm demonstrated “the strong leadership in times of crisis that Americans can expect from a President DeSantis.”
“In the face of the tragedy in Jacksonville and the impending major hurricane, Ron DeSantis is focused on leading his state through these challenging moments,” Bryan Griffin, the campaign’s press secretary, said in a statement. “He’s now at the helm of Florida’s hurricane response and is working with local officials across the state to do everything necessary to ensure Florida is fully prepared.”
Mr. DeSantis said in an afternoon news conference that he had spoken to Mr. Biden and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Partly because of extreme weather, Florida homeowners have seen their property insurance costs rise more than those in any other state since 2015. Some major insurers have pulled out of the market, although smaller ones have entered. Last year, Mr. DeSantis called a special legislative session to address property insurance. But he has warned that fixing the troubled market will take time.
Last month, Mr. Trump urged the governor to leave the campaign trail and “get home and take care of insurance.”
Hurricanes traditionally provide an opportunity for Florida governors to demonstrate their strength and leadership. Mr. DeSantis has faced several major storms, as well as the fatal collapse of a condominium in Surfside, since taking office.
Last year, Hurricane Ian killed 150 people in Florida, making it the state’s most deadly hurricane in decades and raising questions about why local officials had not issued evacuation orders earlier. On the trail, Mr. DeSantis frequently talks about his efforts to rebuild the state after the storm, including quickly repairing bridges and causeways to islands that had been cut off.
On Sunday, Mr. DeSantis received a starkly negative reception when he attended a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Jacksonville, which has a large African American population.
His administration has come under repeated fire for rejecting the curriculum of an Advanced Placement African American studies class and rewriting African American history courses, something that Mr. Scott, who is Black, has criticized.
After the crowd in Jacksonville booed Mr. DeSantis when he tried to speak, a city councilwoman stepped in and asked people to listen. He was booed again when he finished.
On Monday, Mr. DeSantis announced that he would award $1 million through the Volunteer Florida Foundation to bolster campus security at Edward Waters University, the historically Black university near the Dollar General store that the gunman attacked. He also said that the foundation, a tax-exempt state commission focused on community service projects, would donate $100,000 to the families of the victims.
State Representative Angie Nixon, who represents Jacksonville, called the shooting “a stark reminder of the dangerous consequences of unchecked racism” and criticized Mr. DeSantis for “empty gestures” and “publicity stunts.”
“Our historically Black institutions have faced an uphill battle for decades, and I invite DeSantis to go back through unfilled budget requests and line-item vetoes to begin to provide the funding they’ve needed for years. For it to take murder for him to dig in his overflowing coffers for support is appalling,” she said.
In April, Mr. DeSantis was faulted for not visiting Fort Lauderdale, which strongly leans Democratic, after damaging flooding there. Since officially announcing his 2024 bid in May, Mr. DeSantis has spent several days per week out of Florida, usually meeting voters in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, or attending closed-door fund-raisers with donors.
Mr. DeSantis’s campaign has seemed to steady in recent days thanks in part to his performance in the first Republican primary debate last week in Milwaukee that Mr. Trump, the front-runner who is leading Mr. DeSantis by double digits, did not attend. The DeSantis campaign said it raised more than $1 million the next day and a snap poll of Republican voters by the Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos declared him the winner.
On his weekend bus tour through northwest Iowa, many Republican voters said they had been impressed, particularly by how Mr. DeSantis talked about his record as governor.
“DeSantis was the one who broke through,” said Cody Hoefert, a former co-chair of the Republican Party of Iowa who endorsed the governor immediately after the debate. “I want somebody who is going to lead and deliver results.”