WESLEY CHAPEL, Florida — Donald Trump continued his steady march toward the GOP nomination on Saturday after the Florida Republican Party endorsed him for president.

It marks the Florida Republican Party’s biggest embrace of the former president yet and comes just weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out of the 2024 contest.

“For the state party to take the action that it did is a commanding statement,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, newly elected national committee member for the Republican National Committee. “This race is over. The party’s 100 percent behind the former president. And there’s zero doubt now.”

The motion for the state committee to support Trump came from Rep. Dean Black, who chairs the Duval County GOP and said the vote was met with “clapping, cheering, standing ovation.” Trump, who didn’t attend Saturday’s state GOP meeting near Tampa, is widely considered the likely nominee for president though former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is still in the race.

“We recognized what the American people are saying all across the country, and that is that this primary is now pointless,” Black said. “It’s clear that the people want Donald Trump as their nominee for President of the United States.”

The party’s support of the former president solidified Trump’s dominance in his adopted home state after a bruising primary against DeSantis in which the former president repeatedly mocked and politically outflanked the governor in his native state — one that handed DeSantis a historic 19-point reelection victory in 2022 but whose GOP ultimately sided with Trump.

Several Republicans said they were relieved by Saturday’s vote since various members had split allegiances with two leading candidates running for president from Florida. “People are excited to actually start getting together and rolling downhill towards the general,” Lee County Chair Michael Thompson said.

Even before DeSantis dropped out of the presidential race, Trump garnered support from the state’s congressional delegation and GOP grassroots members in counties across Florida through straw polls and formal endorsements.

Trump over months courted Florida Republicans thanks to an organized campaign apparatus composed of experienced, Florida-based operatives, including Susie Wiles, who formerly worked for DeSantis.

Last November, the former president set aside prime seating at a campaign rally in the Cuban-majority city of Hialeah, while skipping out on the Republican presidential debate in Miami, and just days later invited 250 volunteers to Mar-a-Lago for an evening outdoor reception to show his appreciation for their work.

Trump also spoke at a Republican Party of Florida meeting in Kissimmee in November alongside a handful of lawmakers who flipped in his favor, bringing them onstage and praising them each by name in a knife-twisting showdown where the words “Florida is Trump Country” were projected over video monitors behind him onstage. DeSantis, however, received more support for his presidential bid from state lawmakers.

Under pressure from Trump backers, top officials in the Republican Party of Florida voted in September to remove a provision in its state bylaws that required any candidate seeking to be on the March 19 presidential primary ballot to pledge loyalty to the eventual GOP nominee.

Florida-based Trump senior adviser Brian Hughes said Trump “welcomed” the endorsement and said the former president’s connection to the state was “special.”

“We see now more than ever Florida will be bright Red for President Trump,” he said over text message.

DeSantis also didn’t attend Saturday’s two-day party meeting, centered on training ahead of the election and electing party officers. Trump won Florida by three points over Biden in 2020, and polling shows him ahead for 2024. Republicans out-register Democrats by more than 800,000 voters in Florida and are committed to sign up even more in the coming months.

DeSantis endorsed Trump immediately after dropping out of the presidential race but days later raised doubts that the former president could win in November due to lack of enthusiasm and continued to pummel him over his Covid record. Since returning to Tallahassee, DeSantis has been holding regular events throughout the state, often to criticize President Joe Biden.

Anthony Sabatini, who chairs the Lake County GOP, said he advised the state party to endorse Trump “way earlier” — at the very start of the presidential primary — because “it would have saved us $400 million,” referring to rival GOP campaigns and political action committees.

“We as the party had the political obligation to prevent a wasted primary,” he said.

This weekend also capped off a time of turmoil for the Republican Party of Florida, which recently ousted former chair Christian Ziegler amid a sexual assault investigation. Police ultimately chosen not to recommend Ziegler be charged with rape but he could face charges of illegally recording the alleged victim in the case.

“We had a real tough primary,” said Thompson of Lee County. “Every primary is really tough, but this one was extremely tough because of the candidates that were running. We’re excited to get past the Ziegler-gate, get past the endorsements here, get everything back on track.”

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