Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely challenger to former President Donald Trump in a 2024 presidential bid, treads into Nassau County this weekend — territory where top Republicans have previously backed Trump.
The Nassau and Suffolk GOP are now treading lightly.
DeSantis, on a national book tour and trying to raise his profile before a potential campaign, is scheduled to speak Saturday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale. A newly registered nonprofit, "And To The Republic," is sponsoring "The Florida Blueprint" event.
Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph Cairo said he would attend and might speak, but insisted he has made no endorsements.
"We are not at all focused on 2024; 2023, at this point, is our prime and sole focus," Cairo said.
Suffolk GOP chairman Jesse Garcia said he wasn't sure he would attend, but expects Long Island "will attract national figures throughout this year as we ramp up the primary season."
DeSantis would be Trump's biggest rival in next year's Republican primary, according to recent polls.
That puts the local GOP in a familiar position with others watching Trump's legal woes: not committing to a candidate this early, while knowing a decision is imminent.
Trump received an endorsement in 2016 from the chairmen of the Nassau and Suffolk GOP, weeks before he won New York's primary.
He lost Nassau and carried Suffolk in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.
Former Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who served 14 terms before retiring in 2020, said DeSantis is "sort of going into the belly of the beast" in visiting Trump's former home state.
"I think he's a very strong competitor to Trump, and the fact that he's coming to a place like New York, he probably feels, as far as Republicans are concerned, there could be significant support here," King said.
Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-Island Park) said he plans to attend and is "eager to hear more about the governor's successful, pro-freedom 'Florida Blueprint' for governing."
DeSantis appeared in Hauppauge in October with former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who ran unsuccessfully for governor. The rally drew 12,000.
Fifty percent of Republican voters in the United States said they would choose Trump in a presidential primary, compared with 24% for DeSantis, according to a new poll by Harvard's Center for American Political Studies and Harris Insights and Analytics.
Former Vice President Mike Pence trailed with 7%, followed by Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, with 5%.
Trump's lead over DeSantis is smaller in states with the earliest primaries or caucuses.