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Gardnerville Basque Fry touts DeSantis as next U.S. President, but voters not convinced

Ron DeSantis stands on a stage holding a microphone with an American flag and Nevada state flag on either side of him. There’s a small crowd of people in front of him on a sunny day.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Republican Florida Gov. and U.S. presidential candidate Ron DeSantis at Basque Fry in Gardnerville, Nev. on June 17, 2023.

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took the stage at the annual Basque Fry fundraiser in Gardnerville. His appearance marks a departure from the event’s pro-Trump past.

About 2,500 people gathered in sunny Gardnerville for Adam Laxalt’s 8th annual Basque Fry, according to event staff. In the past, the fundraiser has focused on support for former president Donald Trump. But this time around, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the featured speaker, even as he faced escalating attacks from the Trump campaign.

Desantis and other speakers spent much of their time onstage perpetuating anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and focused on national talking points such as immigration and government spending. During his nearly hour-long speech, DeSantis mostly focused on his agenda in Florida, barely mentioning the Silver State.

“The one thing that Florida and Nevada have in common is we are both areas that receive a lot of disgruntled Californians,” DeSantis told attendees.

Ahead of the event, progressive advocates from Florida and Nevada held a press conference denouncing Desantis’ Northern Nevada campaign stop. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat in the Florida House of Representatives, warned that Nevadans don’t want to see the policies being passed in Florida – such as restricting abortion access and censoring books in schools.

“We have some of these right-wing thought leaders coming out of California that have taken root in Florida,” Joseph said. “[They’ve been] given power by DeSantis to propagate this quote-unquote anti-woke agenda, that really is designed to roll back all of the gains we’ve gotten from the Civil Rights Movement.”

Yerington resident Jordan Berrington at Basque Fry in Gardnerville, Nev. on June 17, 2023.Jordan Berrington smiles for a photo under a large tree on a sunny day.
Bert Johnson
KUNR Public Radio
Yerington resident Jordan Berrington at Basque Fry in Gardnerville, Nev., on June 17, 2023.

Northern Nevada residents who came to the event were split on who they wanted as the Republican presidential nominee for 2024, with some expressing steadfast support for Trump and others indicating they’d rather see DeSantis at the top of the ticket.

Yerington resident Jordan Berrington told reporters he hadn’t made up his mind yet. He was at the Basque Fry in part to learn what DeSantis had to say.

“Economically, right now for me, it would be the inflation,” Berrington said. “I don’t disagree with gun control, background checks, but at the same time, it’s a fine line to cross. There’s a lot of gray area there.”

Reno resident Ken Mckean attended his first Basque Fry. He said he still planned on supporting Trump because he doesn’t let political pressures sway him.

“I like DeSantis he’s great too, but he needs to wait his turn,” Mckean said. “Come 2028, I’ll be voting for him and I’ll campaign for him. Trump did a great job, and we need to get him back in and finish the great job.”

Reno resident Patricia Martin voted for Trump in the last election but said she’s ready for someone new. When asked about some issues Reno faces, Martin spoke against recent Drag Story Hour events at Washoe County libraries.

Patricia Martin smiles for a photo under a large tree on a sunny day. There’s a wooden barn behind her.
Bert Johnson
KUNR Public Radio
Reno resident Patricia Martin at Basque Fry in Gardnerville, Nev. on June 17, 2023.

“I think that’s very inappropriate for our children to be exposed to,” Martin said. “We just need to get back to the basics of ABCs and learning Christian values.”

DeSantis’ Saturday appearance reflected his close personal relationship with Laxalt, who was his bunkmate during naval officer training and now leads a pro-DeSantis PAC. It also came on the heels of recent polling that shows DeSantis trailing Trump by more than 30 percent, putting pressure on the Florida Republican to set himself apart.

“We will actually build a border wall,” DeSantis said.

Republican Congressman Mark Amodei and Gov. Joe Lombardo were listed as speakers but did not show up to the event.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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