Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will headline the Utah GOP convention in April

Party Chair Carson Jorgensen insists DeSantis’ visit is not related to his expected 2024 presidential bid

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses The American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting July 28, 2021 at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. DeSantis is set to be the keynote speaker at the Utah Republican State Convention in April.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will rally Utah Republicans next month as the keynote speaker for their 2023 state convention at Utah Valley University. Utah GOP officials are quick to quash any speculation the visit is part of his expected 2024 presidential campaign.

DeSantis, seen as a top rival to Donald Trump for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, has yet to enter the presidential race officially. Utah GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen is adamant the party did not invite him to speak because of his expected run for the White House.

“He has done an absolutely fantastic job of advancing the Republican Party and the conservative cause in Florida,” Jorgensen said Monday. “His policy has led to a massive shift in voter participation, and we are excited to hear about how this has been done.”

DeSantis is likely the highest-profile Republican to address the Utah GOP convention since Mitt Romney spoke to delegates in 2010 ahead of his 2012 presidential campaign. Sen. John McCain was the keynote speaker for the event in 2007 before he launched his 2008 run for the White House.

DeSantis has become a favorite among some Republicans who don’t want to see a third presidential campaign by Trump, and the Florida governor would likely find a receptive audience in the Beehive State.

Gov. Spencer Cox has made his desire to see an alternative to Trump very clear. Last month, Cox said the GOP should nominate a governor for president instead of giving Trump another bite at the apple.

“I’m interested in winning back the Senate next year. I’m interested in increasing our margin in the House, and I would really, really like to win the presidency, and I don’t think he (Trump) gives us the best chance to do that,” Cox told reporters during a February news conference.

Last November, nearly 100 elected Utah Republicans signed a statement urging DeSantis to explore a challenge to Trump for the 2024 nomination. Utah State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he spearheaded the effort because Trump was a drag on the party at the ballot box.

“I think it’s great,” Weiler said in a text message to The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday morning.

Last summer, DeSantis held a pair of high-dollar fundraising events in Utah hosted by Attorney General Sean Reyes and other high-profile business leaders.

DeSantis was the headline speaker at a conservative public policy conference in Salt Lake City in 2021, where he mocked COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Utah is one of the most Trump-skeptical Republican states in the nation. Trump carried the state in both 2016 and 2020, but his winning percentages were lower than any GOP presidential nominee since Bob Dole in 1996.

The Utah GOP state convention is set for Saturday, April 22, at Utah Valley University.